Prepping for Processing

This saturday I will be harvesting, or “processing”, my first litter of rabbits. I have been looking into a lot of different things in preparation. The first of my concerns is sanitation. I decided that using a bleach and water solution was going to be for the best. This is what the pet-store used to sanitize everything they ever used for their animals, and it’s a very effective disinfectant. I poked around and here is some great info on using chlorine bleach as a sanitizing agent in food production. This also covers federal regulations for food safety. For me, everything I use will sit in the bleach solution for several minutes before being rinsed briefly in clean water before use. This is one of the options listed under federal regulation for approved food safety sanitation.

Now, there is another issue involved. The legality of processing meat. One needs things like licencing, inspection, testing for diseases and specialized equipment. There are almost no regulations specified for a small farmer. It’s a serious problem in a lot of food safety issues since most of the problems we encounter with food do not come from small farmers that focus to intensely on each individual product they create, but rather they come from huge factory and intensely grown foods. Every food safety law I read was geared towards being efficient for someone with 1000 or more breeding animals. It really is a serious problem because if you have a small farm with only 3 cows processed each year you have to spend the same amount of time and money on regulations as someone who has 300,000 cows each year.

However, there are a FEW exceptions, at least here in Ohio. I contacted our Ohio Department of Agriculture, Meat Division. I got this as a response;

“Rabbits are not what we define as “amenable”; meaning they are not applicable to the meat/poultry inspection acts/laws. Basically, if you raise rabbits on your farm, want to slaughter them and sell the carcasses/meat directly to the household consumers right from your farm—you can do that without any inspection at all. (Keep in mind, this is true of only non-amenable species. Mandatory species (beef, hogs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc) do require inspection.)…

…As far as other species that are not amenable, it would be easier to say which ones are amenable. Livestock animals include :cattle, sheep, swine, goat, horse, mule, or other equine and for poultry: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, ratites, or squabs )also termed young pigeons)…

…Also, regarding chicken/turkeys: even though they are amenable, a processor can raise (from chicks or eggs) the birds, slaughter/process them and sell them direct to the household consumer (no restaurants, retailers, etc) right from the farm with no inspection as long as you stay under 1,000 birds/calendar year…

… All other species are considered ‘voluntary’.”
I can’t thank to wonderful person who helped me get this info enough. Although when I asked about why small farmers have no smaller-sized regulations despite next to no illness coming from small farmers what I got was as a response was pretty much a wash. The people I have talked to from official offices have always been friendly. I think these people that I talk to really would LIKE to help small farmers see better regulations in place but are under so much pressure from higher up that they can’t even say either way. There’s a lot of political pressure on groups like this to shut up, follow a script or lose their jobs. It’s a real shame.
What this means is that I can sell my rabbits, right off of my property directly to consumers. Since there is no sales tax in Ohio for non-processed food products sold direct to consumers, I do not need to worry about sales tax. I also do not make enough money in a year right now to be charged for income tax. In short; I can sell my rabbits scott-free. This is GREAT. Farmers, especially small farmers, have so many regulations as it is. The fact that there are even just a few animals that we can produce freely is important. Some people may complain; “What if you’re not being respectable in your food production? What if you’re unsanitary!?”. Well why don’t you come out to my place and ask to see the processing? I will happily show my processing to anyone who wants to come by and see it. You are welcome to watch from start to finish to see if it is sanitary or not. That being said, you’ll have to ask. You’ll have to take the initiative to find out for yourself; Is your food as safe as you think? And if you ask a farmer to see the processing process, to see how the animals are raised and how the carcasses are handled and they say no… You probably don’t want to buy from that farmer.
That being said, I think I have found the way I want to do my processing. I would like this to be my consistent method of processing, although I’ll have a slightly more sophisticated station than a chain-link fence.
The day before, the rabbits will have strongly restricted feed and water to limit risk of contamination. I have purchased a special pair of heavy-duty scissors for this. They will ONLY be used for processing rabbits, never for other tasks. As stated above, I will be using the federally acceptable use of bleach and water for cleaning surfaces and tools like knives and the scissors. I will be rinsing the carcasses in cold water immediately after processing and then refrigerating them at near-freezing temperatures immediately after that.
Skins will go into cold water before freezing to be saved for tanning, and the skulls will be rinsed and frozen as well. Those will be donated to our local raptor (bird of prey) rescue/wildlife rehabilitator. The birds will get a nutritious snack (since eyes and brains are nutrient-dense) that they have to work for (skulls are hard to get into) and the mostly bone skulls will wear down their ever-growing beaks meaning they don’t need to have them clipped or filed; a very stressful process. The organs and any easily separated bones will be lightly boiled or fried and fed to our dogs; mostly raw and extremely healthy. I will be doing my best to use every single part of each rabbit. The parts I can’t (such as the stomach) will be composted and returned to the earth.
I am looking forward to saturday and processing my rabbits. I am even happier that I can do so legally. And if anyone asks… They’re welcome to come see for themselves how sanitary my station is, regulations or not!

7 thoughts on “Prepping for Processing

  1. Great post! I love to talk about food safety (it’s the geek in my I suppose).

    I see where you are coming from regarding the whole small farm/no regulations thing but I personally have decided not to sell my rabbit meat to anyone. Sadly, our society has become extremely lawsuit oriented which puts me, my home, and all of my money at risk if someone gets a “bad” rabbit and sues me for all I’m worth. Once the rabbit leaves my property I have no idea who will eat the rabbit – an immune compromised person, a young child, an elderly person, etc. For me, the potential profit is too small and the risk is too high. I wish the government would hold free food safety and processing classes for small farms. I’d also like the government to sell insurance to small farms (after they have passed the classes) that would protect them from potential lawsuits. I believe this would help develop the local food/ small farm movement and spur on economic growth.

    • I don’t own our home and have not got much money to my name as it is; everything is in Greg’s name and he owes me no legal obligations.
      And I am going into this enterprise not just to change my lifestyle but to change others as well! If I sit in the back of my house in a corner, scared of all the things that COULD go wrong, I will never accomplish any changes in other people. I can’t show people that there is good, safe food in the world. I can’t show people that rabbits (and other animals) can be raised humanely on floors that don’t tear up their feet or in cages big enough to move in. I can’t show that there are great cullinary experiences out there other than beef, pork and chicken. I can’t make people care that our FDA uses intimidation and lies to get laws passed. I can’t make people care that our soil is being degraded by chemicals more and more with each generation. I can’t make people care about famers, simpler lives, low farming wages, the degradation of the small farm, the promotion of organics, animal welfare, sustainable living or ANYTHING that I care about unless I get out there and not just do it but SHOW them with something positive. I don’t wanna just change my world, I wanna try to change the whole world. I am going to have to take this jump some day as it is; it might as well be now!

      • I’m sorry if my post sounded mean. 😦 It wasn’t suppose to sound that way. I think your blog is pretty darn awesome and I admire your courage and entrepreneurial skills. I really do. I look forward to hearing about your business. My gut feeling is that you are on the cutting edge of a massive food revolution.

        • Oh no, I didn’t think you sounded mean. You pointed out a sincerely valid issue. People in a modern world jump at any reason to blame someone if something goes wrong and it leads to legal issues. It’s just something I have a passionate conviction about and I can’t just sit back and be satisfied with changing just my life. I love reading about your own animals! I find myself clicking on a lot of your posts when I am looking for something to read in my Reader. :3

  2. I wouldn’t worry too much about being unsanitary, Like you said clean your surface with bleach and RINSE well!(bleach can cause stomach issues which people might then think you were being unclean about your butchering even tho it’s the cleaner that’s causing the issue) The fact you are a small operation means you will be thorough in your handling of the product. Just remember to starve the rabbit 12hr minimum before you slaughter. Tie off the rectum if you are worried, be careful about spilling any bile, so try to loosen organs from the inside by going around the rib cage pulling all the silver skin free before you pull out the organs, then wash your meat after handling. You will be fine, at least you care about your product and that’s a lot more than I can say about commercial abattoirs.

    You should keep the liver, kidney and heart for yourself. Rabbits don’t have enough fat in them to completely nourish you (people starve from eating only rabbit meat) so the organs have all the good stuff including vitamin B’s, just chop them and put them in meat pies etc. You won’t notice the taste if that’s want you are worried about.

    I’m amazed that you can just use kitchen shears to butcher and clean! nice! and I love what you are doing with the skulls and hides, very cool!
    Hope it all goes well and keep us posted, I’m excited for you!

    • I will be using a mild bleach solution and then proceeding to rinse even though the solution is mild enough to be non-inflammitory. I think I’ll be fine in that regard. My rabbits are getting their last meal on Friday.

      The organs will be going to my dogs because part of this project is giving my dogs a good source of food AND I don’t like them. I am never sure why people bring up rabbit starvation. It’s REALLY impractical in a modern world. It has only been reported in people eating exclusively rabbit meat and that just doesn’t happen in a world where there’s bread on our shelves and carrots in our fridge. The science behind “rabbit starvation” is pretty simple… If you eat rabbit as your main caloric source for like a week and little else you can consume so much protien that your body can’t process it. If you eat anything, and I do mean anything, else in the day as a source of calories then you’re fine. For example, the rabbit pie you mentioned has dough on it and probably onions in it. The fact that there’s a high-carb source in that meal negates the risk for protien poisoning and I could eat a rabbit pie every day without running the risk of protien poisoning. Futher more I only eat a small amount of meat anyhow, and would never eat rabbit for three meals a day for weeks; the amount needed to cause protien poisoning. Would you eat rabbit steaks for breakfast, dinner and lunch? Seems kinda crazy to me. In fact if I eat normal meals I absolutely can eat rabbit every day for dinner with no ill effects, no gross organs involved.

      And I thought the kitchen shears were brilliant! I think it’s way easier than a knife and it’ll work like a charm. Since scissors are so blunt and well-shaped on the outside there’s almost no risk of puncturing an organ. I much prefer this to a knife or series of knives!

      • lol, ya I know you won’t succumb to rabbit starvation, my point was more or less the nutrition found in organ meat. But that’s fine, no one will force you to eat it, and your doggy’s need their treats too.

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