Yesterday Shannon and I drove over to Livingston Brook Farm late in morning. We'd both been up early, both had sweated through morning chores, both had hot coffee despite the humidity, and both of us had put in a few hours of work at our computer stations. It was time for a break, but our visit over to my friend Patty’s farm was not to sit on the porch sipping lemonade. Shannon and I were going to help butcher rabbits.
We had three of the rabbits we raised sitting in a carrier behind us. They would be coming home with us not as the little beasts we had raised since birth, but as meat for the freezer. And as dark as that may sound to some of you, please know that was our intention from the jump. We’d acquired the rabbits as a gift from a falconer friend, bred them to one of Patty’s males, and they kindled a litter of hearty and healthy bunnies. We sold a few and decided we didn’t want to be feeding the rest through winter, or having the young rabbits (all males) breeding back with their moms. I have bred, butchered, and cooked many rabbit meals myself. This trip was more of a refresher course for myself, but it was a full-out mentored lesson for Shannon. She was game. Shannon grew up on a farm and her grandparents also farmed. She was around a shepherd’s table her entire childhood and present for plenty of makeshift backyard abattoir work. But she had never learned to butcher rabbits and wanted to learn the entire process, as well as how to tan the hides. She has plans for rabbit fur mittens and hats to fend off the winter chill. She wasn’t excited about the work ahead, but she wasn’t dreading it. And she was already planning Instant-Pot recipes and looking up tanning guides online. My girl’s the practical sort, an introverted and prepared Scorpio. If she was going to do this, she was going to do this right.
When we pulled into Patty’s driveway she was already skinning a headless rabbit hanging from a hook in her garage. She beamed up at us with a glad hello. We waved back, carrying the rabbits. Ours were around 10 weeks old and getting a little large for efficient butchering. "Flemish Giants put on bone, not meat.” is what Patty had told us. “Wait too much longer and you’ll need a saw to get through those joints.” Taking her advice we were here with the rabbits before they hulked out.
We went through the process of humanely dispatching. It was quick and without any additional suffering using the broomstick method. Within minutes of being dispatched the rabbits were hanging by their back hocks over a gut bucket. Patty explained exactly the right order, techniques, and tools to go about the necessary work. First we removed the head, then the front paws. After that we started skinning. Once that was done, gutting and cleaning the meat.
Each rabbit took just a few minutes, with additional lessons in anatomy included. By the time an hour had passed we had harvested our three bunnies, now cooling in a chilled tub of water beside another 6 of Patty’s rabbits. I won’t say it was enjoyable, but the work was good and not a single bladder, intestine, gall bladder, or stomach got punctured. A sack of nine pelts of the various rabbits was set aside for Shannon, a bonus of the 6 pelts Patty didn’t want to fuss with. Not a bad haul for an hour of your time.
The drive home was tired, but pleasant. We were both glad we got it done. It may be high summer still but I am already thinking about fall and I am sure Shannon is too. By the end of August there should be a cord of firewood stacked, a hundred bales of hay up in the barn, and animals like meat birds and rabbits resting in the freezer. All of that rests on top of the usual pressures of the daily farm grind, animals to feed, our freelance work, regular bills. But having 3 less animals, however small, no longer in need of our daily care and feeding and instead waiting to feed us - that’s a small and welcomed relief. I’ll let you folks know how Shannon likes home-raised rabbit tacos or stew and I have a feeling if she does- there will be another litter of kits before fall!
The rest of the day flew by in a hot blur. There was water to haul, more freelance work and emails to sort out. Our neighbor Linda stopped by to trade her raisin and rosemary sourdough for a dozen eggs. The bread was perfect and warm and it made a better lunch than I can describe. Full of bartered bred and still in clothes splattered with bits of rabbit blood we decided to head out for a walk down the mountain with the dogs.
On our walk Shannon was looking for mushrooms, and I was looking for birds. I didn’t know, however, she was on the hunt for fungus until she excitedly pointed towards a bright sunset yellow mushroom on the side of the hill we were walking alongside. There in the leaves and nearly 60° slope of a steep hill were what she was nearly certain were chanterelles! She collected just one and took a photo to send to our friend Mark, Patty’s husband, who knows mushrooms the way I know red tailed hawks. It was confirmed and after more googling she was content to fry it up and enjoy her foraged find. I was so damn proud of her, because not only are my eyes no where near as keen - I am a total wimp when it comes to consuming anything that may lead to accidentally poisoning ones self. Shannon thinks I am the only woman left in modern America worried about botulism, and I may very well be, but I wasn’t biting into a roadside mushroom. Not saying I’m right. I certainly am wrong. But she ate it up and was proud as a cat with a mouse under her paws. She’d foraged, ID'ed, and consumed her first wild mushroom after a morning of butchering her first rabbits. Far as homesteading goes, that’s a banner Wednesday!
And now, a day later, and non one has died of poison and the rabbits are in the freezer. The day here is hot and I am already deep into my zone of work here indoors. I need to finish a picture of a bluebird dreaming about a loaf of bred a client commissioned, and a logo for a horse-powered farm in Virginia. There’s supplies to get in town, soap to make, evening chores, and if I am very lucky - a nap - before I head out to pet sit a friends home while they are off camping. It’s a summer day - before the fear of winter can honestly set in. It’s bolstered by some work, some wild food, and some good friends still beside me, still teaching, still sharing what they have to offer. And at the end of the day I found a woman who can gut a lagomorph and fry up wild mushrooms in the same day. Not bad for a Wednesday at all.