What About Rabbit Meat?

Jan Hoadley is the owner-operator of SlowMoneyFarm, a very small operation in northwest Alabama that is working towards being a larger — but still personal — operation in south central Kentucky. A non-traditional family operation, at this point consisting of Paul, breadwinner off the farm working hard to ensure they can pay bills; Connor, their 13-year-old Godson who joined after his mother passed away; and Jan, who grew up on a family farm in Illinois. Currently they raise poultry and rabbits, and grow herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. They focus on rare breeds, heirloom/heritage varieties, and sometimes combine them with commercial breeds.

I “met” Jan during a Twitter #foodchat (which I believe was a small part of the controversial “Food Dialogues”).  That sparked a great email conversation between us about transparency in agriculture, which prompted Jan to write this post and also this post on her blog. I also found it interesting that they’re raising rabbits for meat — which, if you’re a meat-eater who’s concerned about the environment, is worth considering. As a pescetarian, I won’t be eating rabbit anytime soon, and I’m definitely not encouraging additional meat consumption, but I do think it’s important to know and understand as many sides of the story as possible.

You can find Jan on Twitter and Facebook, and check out her Youtube channel where she shares videos from the farm.

Slow Money Farm

Rabbit meat is a topic that generates great emotion for some people. Some liken it to eating their dog or cat, viewing rabbits as pets only. Others see them as solely a meat animal, produced in volume, white preferred. Still others have an attachment solely from a chef’s plate.

At SlowMoneyFarm we maintain rabbits, specifically Giant Chinchillas. There will be other rare breeds added in time, but for now the Giant Chinchillas have a history. One hundred years ago they were a rabbit being developed for a dual-purpose, producing meat and fur and doing so on less expensive hay rather than a reliance on grains. Today we still embrace that diversity!

We feed pellets and hay, along with clean water. Growing rabbits get as much as they want, while mature ones get a measured amount of pellets along with hay. Like us, fat is not healthy for rabbits. Rabbit meat allows us to select harder for good traits we want to pass on, and provides a market for those animals that aren’t the best.

Rabbit meat is among the highest protein-dense meats you can get. Nutritionally, it ranks highest in protein and lowest in fat, according to a USDA circular. With 795 calories per pound, rabbit beats chicken, turkey and other lean meats for those looking to get more nutrition in a smaller serving.

Chinchilla Cages

Giant Chinchilla Living Quarters

Rabbit meat is all white meat, and when raised off the ground in cages there is no contact with the ground, resulting in a cleaner raised meat. They also can be raised in relatively small areas.

There is also much misinformation about the raising of rabbits for meat. One is that they’re raised in the space of a piece of paper, with photos of animals in shipping crates. The key is those are shipping crates not living quarters! A shipping crate is akin to a child restraint seat. Rabbits without room to move get fat, and fat isn’t muscle. Muscle is where the meat is — our rabbits are selected for a wide frame which allows more muscle.

Giant Chinchilla in Shipping Crate

Giant Chinchilla in Shipping Crate

A rabbit’s skeletal system is much finer-boned than other animals, and less percentage of body weight than a cat. However, over 50% of a rabbit is muscle, and that muscle translates to an efficient meat source.

As the world’s population grows there is no more land to expand on. Farmers everywhere must make more efficient use of what we have and for that reason also rabbits make sense. Rabbits can use forages that we cannot use, converting it into meat that we can use.

Rabbit meat, for all its nutrition, does have some challenges. Many say that any chicken recipe can be used for rabbit. In my experience that is setting you up for disappointment. It’s no more similar than beef is to lamb. Rabbit is much leaner, and with that lower fat it can easily be overcooked and dried out. It excels in dishes where it’s braised — some include rabbit enchiladas, stew, or chili. Its fine fibers absorb flavors and seasoning well.

If you’re purchasing rabbit direct there is another note that many rabbit raisers know that is worth sharing. Rabbit has a reputation as being tender and from fryers (young rabbits of about 8-12 weeks), it is! Some prefer to hold rabbits a little while longer, which results in a meat that is slightly more flavorful and “chewy.”

Do be aware when purchasing at grocery outlets much of commercially-sold rabbit meat in the USA is imported from China. This is done because it’s cheaper (due to regulations) to import than buy direct. For those interested in food choices it’s worth the effort to find a place to buy direct. Still other operations will market by saying rabbit is “free of hormones” — a deceptive tactic. The fact is all living things have hormones. There are no added hormones to ANY rabbit meat raised in the USA. Rations are pretty basic!

Here at SlowMoneyFarm a bigger challenge is getting it processed, as selling meat means having a USDA inspected facility. We’ll be using a family-run small business in Kentucky, the closest one that can handle rabbit due to regulations on meat processors.

We welcome discussion from those interested in rabbit meat. We are working on being able to ship, and are eager to share good quality, clean meats with others.

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