Predicting Processed Rabbit Weight

One of the issues that faces someone who raises meat rabbits is how to predict the dressed or processed weight of the rabbit based on the live weight. After all, you can’t add more weight after the fact. First of all, you need to weigh the rabbit before you feed it, rather than after. Using the before feeding weight seems to provide more predictable results. I’ve found that rabbits can be picky eaters at times, so using this baseline ensures I’m not weighing different amounts of ingested food. Couple the before feeding weigh-in with a same time of day feeding time to ensure you get predictable results. (I also feed right before sundown because rabbits are nocturnal and will feed better at night.) However, there is always some variance, so you need to expect some range in the dressed weight of the rabbit.

Younger rabbits tend to dress out at a higher percentage of their live weight. Most people wait at least eight weeks before attempting to process rabbits. However, these younger rabbits are also considerably smaller than a more mature rabbit. Waiting until thirteen to fifteen weeks often produces a nicer rabbit even if the live weight to processed weight ratio is smaller.

What you feed the rabbit will also make a difference in the ratio because some types of food tend to produce more fat, than lean meat. Adding corn or other grains to the feed will cause the rabbit to be more tender and grow faster, but at a lower ratio and with more inner fat (the fat that isn’t removed with the skin). When you feed anything other than alfalfa pellets, you change the texture of the rabbit and its fat content, and therefore the ratio of live weight to processed weight. For example, feeding the rabbit grass will tend to make it leaner.

The kind of rabbit can also make a big difference. A New Zealand rabbit may only provide a ratio of 55% live weight to processed weight, while a Dutch can provide a ratio as high as 60%. Mixed breed rabbits increase the uncertainty of yield, but do provide advantages in genetic diversity, which can improve the taste of the meat and reduce the need to use medications that pure bred rabbits could require. In short, you need to consider the trade-offs of various decisions you make during the entire process.

In general, you can expect a ratio as low as 50% for a mixed breed rabbit and somewhere around 65% for a Californian/New Zealand mix. However, you must take all sorts of other factors into consideration as previously mentioned. To help me calculate the processed weight better, I started to keep records of live weight to processed weight ratios, ensure I fed the rabbits the same diet, and kept my stock as close as possible to the same mix. Even so, I find that each processing session provides slightly different ratios. Let me know about your live weight to processed weight insights at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Harvest Festival 2015

Harvest Festival is one of my favorite holidays of the year. What, you haven’t heard of Harvest Festival? Well, it happens each year sometime during September. The date isn’t precise because you just can’t hold Mother Nature to a specific time to make the majority of the fruits and vegetables ripe. That said, the harvest does happen every year and it’s a time to celebrate, even though it also means hard work. I’ve presented Harvest Festival in the past:

What made this Harvest Festival different is that I did the majority of the work on my own. There was lots to do, of course, and I plan to talk about some of the things I did in future posts. This year the Harvest Festival included getting some of my wood for the winter into the basement. My friend Braden helped me get the wood down there—it’s a big job even for two people. I now have five cords down there and two cords outside. Seven cords will take me through most winters, but I’ll cut another cord just in case things get extra cold. The wood you see in the picture is mostly slab wood, with about a cord of logs underneath.

John and Braden standing next to a huge pile of wood.
Getting the firewood stacked in the basement was a big job.

This year the apples ended up as chips for the most part. I also saved some for eating. The larder already has all applesauce, juice, pie filling, and odd assorted other apple products I could use. The remaining apples ended up with friends. I did make up pickled crab apples this year and did they ever turn out nice. I also made a crab apple vinaigrette salad dressing and canned it. The result is quite nice. For once, my pears let me down. The weather just wasn’t conducive to having a good pear crop. I did get enough pears for eating and a few for sharing as well.

Every year is good for something though and it was a banner squash year. The squash vines grew everywhere. At one point, the squash was chest high on me—I’ve never seen it grow like that.

 

A largish squash patch with chest high squash plants.
The squash grew like crazy this year!

The picture shows the squash about mid-summer. By the end of the summer they had grown into the garden (overwhelming the tomatoes) and into the grass. The squash also grew larger than normal. I ended up with a total of 700 pounds worth of squash (much of which has been preserved or distributed to friends). Here is some of the squash I harvested this year.

 

The squash patch produced three kinds of squash in abundance this year.
A cart full of squash.

The largish looking round green squash (one of which has a yellow patch on it) are a Japanese variety, the kabocha squash. So far, I’m finding that they’re a bit drier and sweeter than any of my other squash. I think I could make a really good pie with one and they’ll definitely work for cookies. Unlike most winter squash, you can eat the skin of a kabocha squash, making it a lot easier to prepare and it produces less waste. Given that I received these squash by accident, I plan to save some of the seeds for next year. The squash I was supposed to get was a buttercup squash. The two look similar, but are most definitely different (especially when it comes to the longer shelf life of the kabocha).

Canning season was busy this year. I’ve started filling in all the holes in the larder. For one thing, I was completely out of spaghetti sauce. Even though making homemade spaghetti sauce is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the effort because the result tastes so much better than what you get from the store. I also made a truly decadent toka plum and grape preserve and grape and pear juice. I’ve done hot water bath canning by myself before, but this was the first year I did pressure canning on my own. Let me just say that it all comes down to following the directions and not getting distracted. My two larder shelves are looking quite nice now (with Shelby on guard duty).

 

The larder contains two shelving units and a freezer.
A view of the larder from the front.

The right shelving unit contains mostly fruit products of various sorts and condiments. Yes, I even make my own ketchup and mustard. Of course, some of the squash also appear on the shelves, along with my cooking equipment and supplies. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of room to spare.

 

Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.
Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats. In years past I’ve canned venison, pork, and chicken. This year I thought I might try canning some rabbit as well. Canning the meat means that it’s already cooked and ready to eat whenever I need it. The meat isn’t susceptible to power outages and it lasts a lot longer than meat stored in the freezer. Even though canning meat can be time consuming and potentially dangerous when done incorrectly, I’ve never had any problem doing so.

 

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.
The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.

Harvest Festival 2015 has been a huge success. The point is that I have a large variety of different foods to eat this winter, which will make it easier to maintain my weight and keep myself healthy. I had a great deal of fun getting everything ready. There was the usual music, special drinks, and reminiscing about times past. What makes your harvest preparations joyful? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Gift Deer

Our friends are amazing! They see something we might need or want and give it to us if they have it to give. Yes, we reciprocate when we can, but it isn’t as if anyone is keeping score. So, it wasn’t completely unexpected on Saturday when one of the nicest doe deer we’ve seen in a long time landed on our doorstep. However, such a gift is always appreciated, especially considering we were almost out of venison. Our freezer is now packed to overflowing thanks to our friend’s generosity.

Of course, the deer was still on the hoof, so I as soon as I purchased some ice to cool the meat as quickly as possible, I got out my knife and skinned it. I carefully removed the hide and set it aside. Later in the day, I took it to town to give to the local sportsman’s club. They collect the hides and sell them for processing. One good turn deserves another.

After skinning, I cut the meat into pieces and put them in ice water to cool. Rebecca and I set up the meat grinder and broke out the meat saw next. After that, I brought in one piece at a time. Rebecca washed it and then I started figuring out how to process each piece. Some of the meat ended up chopped into chunks for stew, some was ground into burger, we saved the tenderloins to make tenderloin medallions for Christmas, and the ribs will taste dandy barbecued this next spring. Overall, we received 63 pounds of some incredibly nice venison.

Not everyone would view a deer left on their doorstep as a gift. After all, it was a lot of work processing the deer. However, for us, it was pure heaven. We’ll eat well this winter because someone decided to be generous with us.

My point is that the unexpected gift given out of sheer cheerfulness is the best gift of all. My friends knew they would receive nothing more than our thanks for their effort, yet they gave us the deer anyway. Sometime I’ll give them something they need or want. Friendships should work that way, but I must admit that they seldom do. All too often the question beneath the surface seems to be, “What’s in it for me?”

When was the last time you did something for someone simply because it gave you pleasure to do so? I treasure each of these moments and I know that they only make my friendships stronger. Do something nice for someone today! Do it because you want to do it and without any expectation of anything in return. I think you’ll agree with me that the grin you wear the rest of the day truly is worth the effort .

 

Considering Chicken Size

If you’re raising chickens for meat purposes, you’ll eventually need to start processing them. A number of schools of thought exist about this process. For example, after eight or nine weeks, some people will gather family and friends together and process all of their chickens in one fell swoop. This is the approach used by the factory farms. The chickens are raised for a specific amount of time and processed at the same time to reduce costs and to obtain a profit on the entire group immediately. That’s why you commonly see chickens in a specific size range at the store. Gone are the days when you could ask for a chicken of a particular size to meet a specific need.

 

It’s important to note that chickens are usually processed at six or seven weeks in a factory setting. The chickens are force fed as much as they can possibly eat and restricted from moving about too much, which results in a fatty chicken with a poor density. The watery, flabby chicken you get in the store isn’t how chicken is actually supposed to look, but it’s what we’ve gotten used to seeing.

Rebecca and I take an entirely different approach—one that gives us a variety of sizes and reduces the workload on any given day. The two of us can comfortably process eight to ten chickens in a single day. (The largest number we ever processed was 23 chickens at a definitely uncomfortable pace.) We normally start processing chickens at week nine for the purpose of canning them (canned chicken is absolutely amazing stuff and it lasts up to five years without any electricity required). The following table shows the live weight, processed weight, and amount of time required to obtain various sorts of chickens. There is also a description of each kind of chicken.

Type

Time

Live Weight

Processed Weight

Description

Cornish Game Hen

3 to 5 weeks

1.2 to 3.25 pounds

0.72 to 2.0 pounds

A small chicken that’s used for individual servings. This size is usually available in stores.

Fryer

8 to 9 weeks

4.0 to 5.75 pounds

2.5 to 4.0 pounds

The store-sized chicken that’s good for canning and outstanding for low-fat soups when raised correctly.

Broiler

9 to 11 weeks

5.75 to 7.5 pounds

4.0 to 5.5 pounds

A little larger than a store-sized chicken that’s excellent for barbecuing in pieces or fried chicken. This size is also good for a robust soup. Some larger stores and most butcher shops sell this size.

Roaster

11 to 14 weeks

7.5 to 11 pounds

5.5 to 8.5 pounds

Usually unavailable in stores (you can get them at a butcher shop in some cases), but excellent for roasting in an oven or on a barbecue rotisserie.

Small Turkey

14 weeks+

11 to 18 pounds

8.5 to 12 pounds

A great replacement for a small turkey. Generally, you can’t grow any chicken larger than 12 pounds (and we’ve never achieved more than 11.5 pounds). You can sometimes get these birds in a rural butcher shop for a premium price.

Stewing

3 to 5 years

Varies

Varies

A stewing chicken is generally a laying hen that’s past her prime and is only useful for soup or broth. This option is unavailable anywhere today.

 

This table is based on our own experiences and those of people we’ve talked with. It reflects what you should expect for home grown chickens, not for chickens raised in a factory setting, which can produce chickens at a faster pace. We’ve kept records for five years worth of chicken processing. Your results may vary according to a wide range of factors, such as what you feed your chickens and how often. (We feed our chickens a combination of broiler mix chicken feed, grass, kitchen scraps, and insects.) When you raise animals outside, they’re subject to variations in the weather that will affect their weight. Even the place you buy your chicks from can make a difference. I’m also assuming that you plan to raise Cornish Rock chickens as described in the Getting Started with Chickens post.

It’s also important to remember that chickens today are typically sold without the organ meats and sometimes without the neck. The neck, heart, gizzard, and liver normally weigh in at a combined 4.0 to 6.0 ounces. We keep all of these parts because the small amount in each chicken really adds up. Some people also keep the feet, which could add another couple of ounces to the total. The feet are great for broth, but you need to ensure that they’re completely cleaned before you use them and you also remove the yellow outer skin before boiling them. We don’t keep the feet because we feel that the amount of work required to clean them properly isn’t worth the resulting broth.

Although the table seems to indicate that you can multiply the live weight by 0.67 in most cases to obtain the processed weight, we generally multiply by 0.5 to ensure we actually get chickens of the size we want. There is some weight variation between birds and you don’t want to have to weigh each one individually, so the lower multiplier adds a little insurance. Please let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.