Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Watership Down

Today (Tuesday) I received a quick, brutal introduction to the cycle of life on a farm. It was fascinating and absorbing at first, with a tinge of queasiness, but by the end of the morning I had already adapted to the process and the shock had worn off. This morning we slaughtered eight rabbits. Well, Gerolf slaughtered them. I took pictures, held open the trash bag for the skins and guts, and cleaned out the cages.

This post is certainly not for the faint of heart, for lovers of rabbits, or for vegans. So go read People Magazine, Pamela Anderson.

Soon after breakfast, my stomach still churning about a bolus of bread, Nutella, and coffee, Gerolf lead me to the rabbit cages and explained the process of slaughtering the rabbits. He said he used to hit them on the nose first, then the head with his hands; after years of this it became too difficult for him, I suspect both physically and emotionally. Today he used a wooden broomstick to knock the rabbit on the head several times. After the first hit the rabbit is stunned; the second probably kills it; the third is to be sure. Gerolf then grasped the feet and head firmly and pulled to separate the skull from the spine - this makes absolute certain the rabbit is dead and also makes cleaving the head from the body during butchering much easier and cleaner. It was tough to watch all this. The worst were the initial hits on the head, as the rabbits would pump their legs and twitch uncontrollably. Though this was undoubtedly an automatic response from the brain, it was certainly not pleasant to observe. What made me watch was an overpowering curiosity, both of the traditional method of preparing a home-raised meal and of the biological phenomenon of death and the construction of the body of a rabbit.

The next step was to skin and dress the body. Gerolf hung each rabbit by feeding rope through its heels and tying it to a tree limb. the fur and skin was cut at this point and peeled away, very cleanly, down the length of its body; I was told this process was easier when the body was warm. the skin was cut at the head and thrown away (he used to save the pelts and sell them for the price of a beer), along with the eyes. The stomach was then cut open to remove the innards, which were thrown away with the exception of the liver, pancreas, kidneys, lungs, and heart, which were saved for the production of paté. The hands and feet were then cut and the body was bare, pink, and ready for butchering.

In the kitchen Gerolf used a cleaver to separate the two sides of the abdominals (a specialty, he says), the two front legs (his favorite meat), the two hind legs, and the dorsal and ventral halves of the abdomen, or torso. I was on sink duty, using cold water to wash off excess blood and remove the few strands of fur left on the muscles.

And that was half my day. I have to say that, despite the morbidity of the whole thing, I was more fascinated and interested than anything. They are, unfortunately or not (depending on the situation), some very beautiful creatures with sleek, dark coats, long, soft ears, and gentile, handsome faces. The variety is native to the region, Aquitaine, in the department of Dordogne, also known as the Perigord region. The rabbit is known as lapin chèvre in French, "goat rabbit" in English.

I suppose that is life on the farm. It does make a good meal, especially when simmered in Laubicherie Ambrée beer.


  1. Man, that sounds tres awesome, Owen. I really enjoyed reading the blog today- and I'm glad you're getting lots of chances to gawk... one can learn a lot from gawking, I think.

  2. Rabbits suffer the same problem as ducks -- they're cute, but also delicious.