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This is final part of a 3-part series on raising, butchering and processing rabbit for meat and fur.
This article has been contributed by Anne Marie Duhon. Anne Marie is a wife, mother of six and a full time off-gridder. She and her husband currently live in a totally off grid 200 sq foot “tiny home” and are in search of (again) that elusive perfect spot to call home. Besides being a wife and mother she, and her family, have raised many different animals on their various homesteads and have lived and loved being off the grid and many miles from the nearest paved road. She would like to share her first hand experiences and help others to learn to live and love living off grid and being as self reliant as possible.
How to Tan a Rabbits Hide
Tanning the hides is the final step in totally using the rabbits you have so lovingly cared for by not letting any part of your animal go to waste.
The reward for all your hard work is a beautiful, warm soft hide that could be used for anything! While these “directions” say rabbit it will work on any fur-bearing animal, just adjust according to size of the hide/pelt. There are several tried and true methods that will be discussed here, none of which call for expensive equipment or supplies.
Step One: Skinning and Fleshing the Hide
The first step is to skin the rabbit. This process is best done by peeling (not cutting) the hide off the animal as demonstrated in the following video:
After securing the hide (cutting out the head if necessary) scrape off every bit of meat and fat from the hide with a knife.
If you have the time, you can begin the tanning process immediately or you can store the hide until you have a quantity to do at one time. To store the hide, coat the flesh side liberally with plain non iodized salt, roll up flesh side in and freeze. This first step is the same no matter what solution you use to tan the hide.
Step Two: Prepare the Hide for Tanning
Soak the hide(s) in water in a plastic bag or bucket until it softens, changing the water often. This rinses off the salt also. Once the hide is soft drain and scrape the hide back and forth either over a 2 x 4 on edge or with a DULL knife or other bladed instrument. This is to break down the skin but do not scrape so much as to expose the hair roots or put holes in the hide.
Step Three: Tanning the Hide
Now here is where you have a choice. The most common method of tanning a hide is the alum and water method but there is also the traditional brain tanning method or bark (tannic acid) method. Those three will be covered here…
In using alum and water you first have several (5 or so) hides ready to be tanned then dissolve 2 ½ pounds of salt in 4 gallons of water in a garbage can. In a plastic bucket, dissolve 1 pound of ammonia alum in a gallon of water. Slowly pour the alum solution into the garbage can, mixing thoroughly. Soak the skin for four days, occasionally stirring to make sure the hide is well coated. Rinse thoroughly with running water.
Save the brains from whatever animal hide you are tanning. There is a saying amongst tanners that each animal has enough brains to tan its own hide. So if you are doing a batch of rabbits save all their brains in a bucket.
Prepare the tanning solution by combining 1 pound of brain with 2 gallons of warm water. For best results, use rainwater. If you do not have access to rainwater, purchase bottled spring water at your local grocery store. Water treated with chlorine may reduce the effectiveness of tanning solution.
Soak the hide(s) overnight in the brain solution
The next day remove the hide from the brain solution and drain by wringing GENTLY until most of the solution is removed.
Nail the hide(s) to a flat surface, or stretch in a frame. A smooth tool like a wooden spoon or axe handle can be used to work the hide. The hide should be worked by pushing and stretching it in a stroking motion until it dries.
The final step for brain tanning is smoking the hide. Brain tanned hides are most durable if they are smoked for several hours in a smokehouse. However, be careful not to heat the hide too much. Use dry, semi-rotten wood to produce lots of smoke and low heat.
This method is labor intensive and takes a long time but can be done with stuff found in nature!
I found an old U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (1884) publication Home Tanning of Leather and Small Fur Skins and have summarized the basic steps for tanning a cow hide with tannic acid from bark: For rabbits just tan 10 or more hides at one time.
Step Four: Finishing the Hide
For any of the above methods the hide(s) need to be finished. Here is how that final step is done:
Now your hide is done and ready to become whatever you wish it to!