I bought some locally produced lamb from a local friend of mine and needed to freeze most of it for future use. I did cook the lamb chops and they were so delicious I was reluctant to share them with my eldest son who wanted to join me in eating them. I did share them with him, and he really liked them. When I froze the lamb I needed to make some space in the freezer so I removed the rabbit skins that I stored in there from several months ago. I decided that it was time to process these hides (or at least some of them… there was still a little space in the freezer) and dry them out for future use.
I don’t have any experience in successfully curing hides. I have tried it three times in the past, none of these times produced anything.
The first time I tried this I tacked one hide to a wooden board and placed it on a low bench. It was summer and I expected that the sun would dry this out quickly. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was really just trying this out for curiosity. I sprinkled the hide with a liberal amount of salt and hoped that this would assist in the The hide was drying out nicely and I was very impressed with the results… until the third day. I came out and I found only a few scraps of fur on the board, with the hide missing. I suspect that one of my dogs took the hide, thinking I left it there for them. Attempt one was a failure due to my losing the hide.
The second attempt took place a month or so later. It was still warm outside (coming into Autumn) and I had a new rabbit skin to work with after processing as rabbit for meat. I didn’t want to make the same mistake of drying the skin in an easily accessible area so I placed it on a wooden post in my fenced garden area. Within a day I noticed that a local population of ants had found the hide and were assisting me by removing the excess membrane on the hide. The hide was drying really well without addition of salt so I was very pleased. That was, until the hide disappeared. I don’t really know what happened to that hide, yet I suspect that it was a crow who thought he would get an easy meal. I bet he had a big shock when he took the hide and found that it was empty.
My third attempt was made after I discussed my previous failures with a local rabbit breeder. He mentioned that when he processes rabbit meat he usually does a bunch of them at once. He then stores the rabbit skins in a container of salt water until it is warm enough to dry them. He mentioned that this also makes the hides much more pliable. I really liked the sound of this so I followed his advice. I processed a few rabbits and placed the skins in a large plastic bucket with a lid, containing very salty water. When I checked the hides on a warm day about 3 weeks later I was disappointed to note that they were now green. Some algae had decided to colonise the bucket and destroy my hides. I disposed of this failure and went back to talk to the local producer to see where I went wrong. He told me that the bucket was only meant to hold the skins for a day or two… I am not sure where the confusion about this originated. He then told me that he freezes the hides until summer, which is when he dries them.
While completing my 13 skills challenge on butchering, I decided to try the freezer method, so I stored the dozen rabbit skins in a plastic bag in my freezer. That leads me to the present.
I decided to try the method which produced the best results, air-drying. I tacked four rabbit skins to a large wooden board and placed it in a location difficult to for dogs to reach. While it is still very cold at my home, I have noticed that the hides are already drying nicely. I am keeping a close eye on these ones… I want to have some success. I have also noticed that tanning hides was a skill I failed to add to my list at 13 skills. I will add it soon.
I did find an interesting set of instructions on the Tennessee Government website, sourced from the University of New Mexico. They have a guide which provides some very nice advice on this process.