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Butcher Station

How to make and set up a simple butcher station for small animals, like rabbits.

The surest way to guarantee the quality of life and products of your livestock is to raise and butcher them yourself.  Butchering animals is not difficult, and with a basic setup, you can be sure that your animals are killed humanely, the meat is handled properly, and the wastes are managed sustainably.

If you keep animals for food, you will have to “harvest” the meat at some point, and having a clean, organized area for this task makes everything less stressful for you and your animals.

Each abattoir is different, depending on the site, butcher, and resources available.  We’ve simplified the process to a system based on the 5 gallon bucket. This creates a modular butchery, to which you can add stations easily and cheaply.

Our design is based on butchering rabbits, but can be customized to fit almost any small livestock.  Poultry require a slightly different approach, as they need a plucking station instead of a pelt station. We’ve designed this system around one person, but it could easily accommodate two people.

Materials & Tools
Materials

5 x 5 gallon food grade plastic buckets

42″ of 3/8″ smooth rebar

18″ of 2″ angle iron

6 x 2″ wood screws

Small animals to butcher

Tools

Welder

Tape measure and marker

Circular saw

Sink and water

Knives and sharpeners

Butcher snips

Apron

Hammer

Hard surface or anvil

 

Step 1: Kill Device
  1. First of all, you need a humane killing device, one that will dislocate the vertebrae from the skull, killing the animal quickly and without any mess. Start by cutting the 18″ of angle iron into 2 pieces, 9″ each.
  2. On one side of the angle iron, drill 3 holes, evenly spaced apart.  These are the mount holes.
  3. Cut 12″ of 3/8″ rebar.
  4. 4″ from one end of the rebar, bed down 45 degrees.  On the opposite end, about 3″ in, bend up about 15 degrees.
  5. Clamp the angle iron flat to a firm surface, with the side that has the mount holes facing up.  Now, put your rebar on the angle iron with the 45 degree bend touching the inside of the upright side of the angle iron.  The other end of the rebar should be about 3-4″ from the edge of the side of the angle iron clamped down. It should make a “V” shape.
  6. Weld a good bead on both sides of the rebar to the angle iron.

 

Step 2: Hanging Device
  1. You need a device that will hold the animal while you skin and gut the carcass. For larger animals, you use a singletree, but for small animals, it is better to make a firmly mounted device that holds their hind legs right at the ankle.
  2. Take the left over 9″ of angle iron and drill 3 holes, evenly spaced apart.  These are the mount holes.
  3. Cut 15″ of 3/8″ rebar.
  4. 4″ from one end, bend 90 degrees.
  5. On the other end, turn the rebar 90 degrees, so that the bent leg from Step 3 is facing down.This bend needs to be very sharp, but in the horizontal plane of the ground.  Bend all the way around so that it almost touches itself (about 1″ from the rebar).
  6. With a hammer, hit the bend from the outside against a hard surface to close the bend a little more.  You can then hold the end of the rebar and bend out a bit to get the right shape.  You want a very narrow V shape, with the inside of the bottom of the “V” being 1/2″ between the uprights.
  7. Follow Steps 4 -6 for the remaining 15″ of 3/8″ rebar.
  8. Clamp the angle iron flat to a firm surface, with the side that has the mount holes facing up. Lay the 2 rebars so that the 90 degree bend is touching the upright side of the angle iron.  Clamp these in place with the V’s upright.
  9. Weld a good bead on both sides of the rebar to the angle iron.

 

Step 3: Design and layout
  1. For small animals with pelts/furs, you’ll need about 5 stations/buckets (kill, evisceration, pelt, carcass, cleanup). This requires an area about 3ft by 4ft.
  2. You want a cool, open area for your abattoir, preferably a nice spot under a big shade tree.  It is handy, though not necessary, to have running water nearby. If you don’t have running water, use a clean bucket for washing carcasses and tools.
  3. Using three of the 2″ long screws, attach the kill device into a tree or wall. It should be at waist level, so that it’s comfortable and easy to use. I like the kill device to be mounted at 45 degree angle from the ground.
  4. Using the other three screw, attach the hanging device to a wall or tree. It should be close to the kill device, and at eye level.
  5. Layout your buckets in a semi circle around you, starting directly in front of you, and moving around your right side (or left if you are left-handed).  The buckets should be spaced evenly, about two feet apart, and should be about two feet in front of you.  These buckets let you visualize the layout of your butchery.  You start on the left, and move to the right, and each bucket represents a station on the assembly line. Arrange the buckets so that you don’t have to take many steps in between stations.
  6. The first and last task for every butcher day is cleanup.  You’ll want to wash all the buckets and surfaces throughly.  Sanitation should be your highest priority!

 

Step 4: Killing
  1. To the left of your kill station, you’ll want a holding cage for the live animals.  We like to do batch processing, so that we butcher 5-10 animals at once.  This makes the most out of the setup and prep time.  Your holding cage should comfortably hold all of the animals you plan to slaughter. Make sure the animals have shade and water.
  2. Place a bucket below the kill device.
  3. Using your kill mechanism, dispatch the animal.  This means putting the rabbit’s head into the V of the device and pulling its back legs towards you in a quick, firm pull (see video).  The head will dislocate, and you should move the carcass to the evisceration station quickly.
  4. If you are doing poultry, you need to pluck the carcass before gutting it. Dip it into a bucket of very hot water and then pull out all the feathers. The quicker you do this after the bird has died, the easier it is.

 

Step 5: Evisceration
  1. Place a bucket on a stand under the hanging device, with the rim at about waist level.
  2. Once the carcass is hung, make a deep cut across the throat and let the blood drain into the bucket.
  3. Then remove the head completely and drop it into the kill station bucket.
  4. Proceed with skinning and eviscerating the carcass (see videos).
  5. Once the carcass is cleaned out, cut off the feet with your butcher snips. I let the offal go into the bucket below, but put the feet in the kill station bucket.
  6. We save the heads and feet for our dogs.  The offal and blood can be composted or cooked and fed to dogs, cats, chickens, fish, and/or pigs.
  7. If you have adventurous tastes, many organ meats can be cleaned and saved for eating. Organs are nutritionally dense, and offer alternative dishes. The liver, heart, lungs, and kidneys are popular offal meats.  Just wash them well, place them in the carcass bucket to cool off, and then wrap them separately for the freezer.

 

Step 6: Pelt

Fill the pelt bucket about halfway with cold water. Once the pelt has been removed, wash it well, then place it in the pelt bucket, and let the pelts soak in the cold water until you are done. When you are done butchering, the pelts can be “tanned” for other projects. Do not let this water get warm, as the fur can “slip”, whereby patches of fur come loose. Putting a cup of vinegar into the water also helps prevent slipping.

 

Step 7: Carcass
  1. Fill the carcass bucket about halfway with cold water. Clean the carcass well, and trim away extra skin or fat.  Let the carcasses sit in the cold water, and add some ice packs, if the water temperature gets warm.
  2. When butchering is done, wash the carcasses again, and then wrap or bag them up for the freezer. Rabbit stores well in the freezer, but it is best used within 6 months.

 

Step 8: Wash

This can be very simple, but you need a supply of running water, both for cleaning before and after the butcher session.  If you don’t have a hose or water connection nearby, you can use a bucket of water. 

The most important thing is to clean the processed carcasses really well, making sure they are free of blood, hair, and dirt. Once they are cleaned, wrap them for the freezer ASAP.

 

It’s best to keep butcher animals away from food for at least 24 hours before butchering.  They should always have a supply of clean water, but removing food helps empty the bowels before processing.

Each butcher day will include a setup time of about 30 minutes, cleaning the area, laying out buckets, catching animals, sharpening knives, etc. Before bringing the animals to the butcher area, make sure you have the pelt and carcass buckets filled halfway with cold water.  A few ice packs help keep the water cold.

We can butcher about 5 rabbits an hour, from hutch to freezer with this layout.  Adjust your butcher stations to reduce steps and improve sanitation.

With your Backyard Butchery in place, you are on the path towards high quality meat right at home!

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