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Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Zealand Rabbit - a real oportunity

From time to time my boys go out into the near by field and bring back a wild rabbit. One rabbit - one very tasty meal. But.........

In New Zealand, rabbits are a plague. They breed like... well like rabbits and each 7 rabbits is said to eat the same amount of forage as one sheep. In a country that has sheep, dairy cattle and beef cattle as its main enterprises, it is not surprising that bunnies are not the national icon. Such interesting customs have grown up over the years as the "Easter Bunny Hunt" . Not surprisingly this happens at Easter and anyone who can shoot a 22 goes out and tries to slaughter as many bunnies as possible.

We have brought in Myxomatosis and Calki-Virus which worked for a short while and sometimes poison carrots are spread around to get ahead of the bunnies. All farmers have 22's and most of them are crack shots. All these measures give limited and short lived success. And yet, in many countries, a prime rabbit sells for a good price in the corner butcher shop. In England, for instance, a bunny is a rarely indulged in luxury.

And the meat is lean, tasty and tender. My boys have learned that if they want their mom to serve bunny for dinner, it must be presented skinned, quartered and in plastic. There is something about a plastic bag that confers official "from the super market" status to the meal rather than "something from the adjacent field". Sure she knows exactly where the bunny comes from but presentation is everything. While some people in New Zealand, eat bunny, most consider it a plague and won't touch it. Go figure?

It shouldn't be all that difficult to turn our plague into a currency earning resource. A couple of elements have to come together. The first is easy. Picture a large, truck kitted out as a processing and canning factory. We have a similar units for our wine industry. Many vineyards make their own wine but don't want to do the bottling so we have large trucks with built in bottling factories. They turn up on request and since this is all they do all year, they are very good at their job. After suitable development work by some top class industrial chefs, canning trucks would be able to produce beautiful, boned spiced canned rabbit for the supermarkets of the world. The meat would be quickly pressure cooked off the bone and packed tightly in the cans with a spicy sauce. Rabbit Parisian, curried rabbit, rabbit creole etc.

A second truck would be kitted out as a chiller and processing unit. This is the truck that would go to the individual farms to collect the bunnies, skin and gut them and hang them in the chiller truck for later processing. The canning truck would stay in some central location in the district while the chiller truck would ferry in the rabbit from nearby farms.

The last, and most difficult element, is a way to harvest the bunnies. They can't be shot. When a 22 bullet hits bone, a certain amount of lead is smeared off the bullet and this would be totally unacceptable for a food product. I picture easily erected fences made from hurdles with cone access guiding bunnies to one compartment. Attractive baits or availability of water might be used. Systems might be set up ahead of time allowing the bunnies to get used to them before the final hurdles are put in place, only allowing the bunnies to go one way and so forth. My sons dig the bunnies out since I refuse to eat a shot rabbit and this might work in some cases. I really don't know how the harvest would be done. However, we are fortunate in New Zealand to have a farming and hunting fraternity that is very familiar with bunnies. I suspect that with some work and refinement, they could come up with a way to mass harvest bunnies. The hunters would enter a district ahead of the processing unit and would get everything set up while the processing truck was finishing the run in the previous district.

At present farmers spend large amounts of money to keep control of their bunnies and, as I understand it, they are legally obliged to do so. Not much use for one farmer to control his bunnies if the neighbour is letting them run wild. At the very least, the mass trapping of bunnies would relieve the farmers of this expense. At best, a small royalty could be paid to the farmers on a per-can basis. Initially, I am pretty certain that the farmers would be extremely grateful for anyone that would remove a couple of thousand bunnies from their farms.

And as a bonus, the meat is likely to be as free of pesticides and other unwanted pollutants as any meat can be these days. The rabbits are at the very base of the food chain and pesticides are not used on our pastures. One might have to be a bit careful in areas where historically DDT was used to control grass grub but if any such areas are still dangerous, this would be soon discovered.

A by product of this industry could be rabbit skins. The skin is very fine and the fur very soft and warm. With the huge quantities of skins without bullet holes a whole new industry could grow up around rabbit coverlets for beds, rabbit skin vests, gloves and so forth.

We have huge numbers of bunnies in New Zealand. Like recycling, lets try to see it as a resource rather than a problem and see where we come out. The whole project needs government support until it is past the pilot plant stage and the place to start is in the mass harvesting methods. The rest is easy.

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