Grazing is all the rage as grass-fed beef is increasingly on the menu. But cattle aren’t the only ones to benefit from a return to the fields: rabbits are, too, whose meat is one of the few that’s seeing significant growth in Quebec.
Updated October 31, 2018
Bernadette is not a breeding rabbit like the others. Not only because she has a name, but also because she eats grass. I took a bite this morning, yesterday too, and tomorrow it will be again, fresh grass, very green. And so it will be until the first flakes fall.
Bernadette is the most beautiful rabbit raised in a pasture in Montmagny, which is still rare in Quebec, where the animals grow outdoors and eat mostly what grows in the wild under their noses, almost as if they were free . A rare case, since most Quebec breeders, as well as Canadian or European, are of the traditional type. That is, rabbits are raised in cages on farms of medium size, large area, without windows and fed mainly with compressed feed.
“That in itself is not bad,” says Catherine Dionne. But for reasons of well-being, myself and the animals, I prefer the option of being “outside” in the fresh air, rather than in a building with cleaning agent smells, ”explains one who is several breeders of pasture rabbits in the province and a trainer in the subject.
The nature of rabbits is such that Catherine Dionne animals are not raised in the wild and never will be. “If we don’t put wire mesh on the ground, they will dig holes and they can run away.” The fine trellis also protects them from repeated attacks by foxes and raccoons. But cages provide more space for rabbits than the standards recommended by the industry’s new code of practice in 2018, which range from 0.062m to2 for fattening rabbits at 0.46 m2 for larger specimens, for a height of 40 cm: there will be a maximum of one mother and her brood per area of 2.5 m.260 cm high.
The cages are somewhat oddly shaped, with large handles on one side and small wheels on the other to make them easier to move each morning so that the little animals have access to very fresh, very plentiful grass. “It’s still heavy,” the girl said, pulling the last cage out to arm’s length. Behind her, we see large strips of shaved grass forming in the field, being devoured by rodents that are already attacking the new twigs that have magically appeared under their feet. The cells are lilac, lilac, green, blue, a nice idea of the father, who every year comes to smear the remnants of paint there, beautiful spots against the background of the meadow and the orange forest. This October morning, the rabbits began to decorate themselves with thicker and warmer fur for the cold season; they have no apparent lack of appetite or food.
Catherine Dion has about twenty females, which will allow her to sell about 500 animals this year, but she plans to double production. About thirty kilometers away, the La Rafale farm, run by biologist Diane Ostigui, also has a craze for her grazing rabbits that she wants to take advantage of, and the numbers prove the two women are right to bet on height. Rabbit meat consumption in Quebec is very meager, a modest 40 grams per person per year (versus 1.7 kg per year in France), but while overall meat consumption is stagnating or declining, rabbit is growing markedly, ministry documents show. agriculture (MAPAQ). The sale of rabbit meat in Quebec increased by 46% between 2005 and 2014, significantly higher than the 6% recorded for all other meats, while the population increased by 7% over the same period.
Too pretty for the kitchen?
However, marketing is not easy, say Diane Ostigi and Katherine Dionne. The beauty of an animal is a double-edged sword that repels buyers. “We still need to get rid of the idea that it’s difficult to prepare meat or that it should only be reserved for the holidays,” says M.me Reach. Richard Desjardins, professor of culinary arts at the Quebec Hospitality Institute, agrees. “It’s a very interesting protein-rich, low-fat meat that can be cooked as quickly as chicken,” he insists. And it’s cheaper than you think, as there is very little waste. Breeders rely on processed products such as pates or sausages to attract more customers.
Does Grass Consumption Affect Rabbit Meat? Difficult to say, says Catherine Dionne. Diane Ostigi gives them apples and finds that the flesh is a little sweeter in autumn: she has also committed to planting more fruit trees for her rabbits, who will have more shade “in summer” as a bonus. Pascal Houdon of Pascal le Boucher, a butcher shop, only sells rabbits from the La Rafale farm, but his choice is primarily motivated by concern for the welfare of the animals, another matter of consumer taste.
This year, the Quebec Rabbit Breeders’ Union adopted the first set of rules, developed in conjunction with the National Animal Care Council, which defines the procedure to be followed to ensure minimum animal welfare. “This is a big step,” says Maxime Tessier, vice president of the union. Finally, everyone will have the same basic standards.” If it’s mostly conventional breeding, it indicates that outdoor spaces “offer more freedom of movement and a richer environment for the rabbits.” In Quebec, it is mostly small farms – less than 100 rabbits – that use this route, while 90% of Quebec rabbits come from larger farms. The European Union, for its part, adopted a report in 2017 calling for new minimum standards for rabbit farming in favor of the pen.
192: Number of rabbit breeders registered in Quebec in 2017 (MAPAQ)
285,211: Number of rabbits raised in Quebec and sold in 2017 (MAPAQ).