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Here on our farm, we have raised meat rabbits for about 3 years. But so far, I hadn’t done anything with the hides. I’ve always wanted to learn how to tan rabbit hides, but just hadn’t done it…until now! For this episode of the Self Reliant Skill of the Week, I am tanning rabbit hides for the first time ever.
There seems to be about a hundred different ways to tan rabbit hides. Ask a hundred people how they do it, and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers on what is the “right” way. But I’m not totally convinced there is a “right” way. You should do it the way that is best for you, individually.
You can brain tan the hides, which involves using all the brain matter of the animal to tan their own hide. Fun fact: every animal (except bison, I believe) has enough brain matter to tan their own hide.
Some people use mayonnaise to tan their hides, but mayonnaise is a little too expensive to use for that, in my opinion! I’d rather save the mayo for my sandwiches.
Lots of people use alum, but that’s not something that I have available to me, so I opted out of that one as well.
For me, the method that made the most sense is the salt and egg tanning method. Eggs are pretty plentiful around here. And even if you don’t raise your own chickens, eggs are cheap. Salt is cheap too, and readily available for everyone. This seems like the most self reliant method besides the brain tanning.
These steps are assuming the rabbit has already been dispatched and skinned. I’m not going to go over those steps here. You can read how to skin and gut a rabbit here.
Now, bear with me, this is my first time doing this! But these are the steps I took to tan my very first rabbit hides.
Step 1: Salt the hides thoroughly
Take some non-iodized salt and coat the fleshy part of the hides thoroughly. Make sure the salt doesn’t have iodine in it, as this will alter your results. Plain salt without iodine from the store works well, and is about a dollar for a decent-sized tub. You can also use Kosher salt, or sea salt.
Make sure your salt is pretty thick over the flesh of the hide. This helps dry out the fat, blood vessels, and inner membrane of the skin so it doesn’t rot. I’m hoping it will also make it easier to flesh the rabbit hide in the next step! Let the salt sit on the hides for 48 hours.
Step 2: Remove the salt and flesh the hides
After the 48 hours is up, you’ll want to scrape off the salt. The flesh underneath should be fairly dry. Taking a dull knife or scraping tool, start at one end of the hide and scrape all the fat and membranes off of the hide. You want to get it down to the soft, non-slimy leather underneath.
This is not a quick or easy process. Just take your time and scrape as much as you can off of the leather. Try not to scrape too hard, as you may rip the hide. Once you get a decent-sized section loosened, you may even be able to peel it off. But pull gently and steadily.
I read somewhere that the older the rabbit, the harder it is to flesh it. I found that to be true as well, since my oldest rabbit was the hardest to flesh.
Step 3: Egg the hides
After you’re satisfied with the fleshing part, you’re ready to start tanning! To do this method, you’ll need just the yolks of 1-2 eggs per rabbit hide. Separate the yolks, and gently whip them, like you’re going to make scrambled eggs. Pour some of the egg mixture on each hide, rubbing it everywhere on the fleshy side.
Try not to get the yolk on the fur. But if it does happen, no worries, you’ll be washing the hide thoroughly after the tanning process is complete. After you’ve coated the flesh of the hide, put a damp towel over it and let it sit for 48 hours. Check the towel occasionally to make sure it doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the yolk to fully dry on the hide.
Step 4: Wash the hides
Once the 48 hours with the yolk is complete, you need to wash the hides thoroughly. I sprayed most of the egg yolk off with a hose, then washed them the rest of the way in a tub filled with soapy water. It doesn’t really matter what kind of soap you use, but I used a strong-smelling kids’ shampoo. Make sure when you’re washing, to get all of the yolk off of the hides.
Squeeze the hides to get as much water out as possible. Then set the hides out for a bit to dry out. You’ll want them to be just barely damp when you move on to step 5.
Step 5: Work and stretch the hides
When the hides are nearly dry, you need to work the hides. Working the hides means to pull and stretch them with your hands or over a board or tree. This breaks the fibers in the leather so it remains soft and supple. When the leather is properly stretched, it becomes more white.
I found it easiest to rub the hide both ways across a 4X4 post. Make sure you’re pulling both sides nice and taut while rubbing it across the post. You will also want to change directions during the stretching so you break the fibers going the other way as well. Once you are done working the hide, add a very thin layer of baby oil to keep the leather from drying and cracking.
Step 6: Smoke the hides (optional but recommended)
This step is optional but recommended. You want to smoke the hides for about 30 minutes to properly finish the hides. If you don’t smoke the hides, they will get hard if they get wet. This is especially important if you are making hats or coats out of the rabbit hides.
I didn’t smoke my rabbit hides this time, as we don’t have a good smoker set up yet. So I’ll just use them inside and make sure they don’t get wet.
Here is my YouTube video showing these steps in detail:
You can tan rabbit hides at home!
While it is a bit of work, you can tan your very own rabbit hides at home. This is a great way of being self reliant, self sufficient, and using more of the animals you butcher yourself. Imagine being able to make a rabbit skin hat to keep you warm during the winter, or making a soft, cuddly blanket. It’s such a great feeling to be able to produce your own leather. And using more of the animal is a great way of honoring its sacrifice to feed your family.
Are you going to try it?