JEROME, Idaho – Norman Kump has a passion for rabbit meat.
Give him a chance and he’ll tell you all about the benefits of bunny. It’s lean; it’s affordable; it’s grown locally. And the Jerome rabbit processor hopes to introduce more Idahoans to the product.
Kump raised rabbits when his children were small, but the family abandoned the practice when they moved to Arizona. When they relocated to Jerome two years ago, they took up rabbits again.
At the time, Kump couldn’t find many other rabbit growers or processors, so he built his own rabbit enclosure and went through the steps to get certified. Rabbit meat is non-amendable – or wild – so the meat itself doesn’t have to be inspected, but Kump’s processing kitchen had to be certified through the South Central Public Health District.
Kump processes about 45 rabbits per week, about five of which he raises himself. Idaho law requires him to buy the other rabbits he butchers and sells; his producers are in Declo, Shoshone, Buhl, Twin Falls, Kimberly, Gooding and Jerome.
But Kump won’t process just any animal. He has standards about how the animals are cared for and what they eat. If the rabbits have mites, he won’t allow them into his facility, and if he finds signs of disease after butchering, he returns the carcass to the producer. He won’t take chances on illnesses spreading to the healthy rabbits he keeps.
His standards aren’t a problem for Dave Zortman in Jerome.
“You know, he doesn’t have a list of rules that he walks over and says, ‘Are you meeting these?’ ” Zortman said. “But he did come and inspect the facility. Is it clean? Are the animals well cared for? That kind of thing.”
Zortman and his wife started raising rabbits about eight months ago and now have about 100. His wife likes pets, and Zortman likes that they help the family become self-sufficient.
“In an economical disaster, it (allows us) to produce our own meat here at home without depending on grocery stores,” Zortman said.
Both the Zortmans and Kump treat their rabbits like pets. Kump cleans the cages daily and checks on them throughout the day. All the rabbits are handled, in case anyone wants to buy them as pets.
“They’re fun to take out of the cage and love them and enjoy them,” Kump said. He has his favorites, including Lucky, a tri-color doe that he resuscitated after it was abandoned by its mother, and Bucky, a big brown Rex that he enters in shows. Most of the rabbits, though, are destined for the kitchen.
More than anything, he enjoys it when customers buy rabbits for health reasons. A rabbit’s fat isn’t marbled in the muscle – as it is in pork or beef – resulting in a leaner meat.
Kandee Andersen of Healing Arts Studio in Twin Falls refers many of her clients to Kump. The meat is heart-healthy and easy to digest, she said, and she likes that Kump doesn’t use steroids and antibiotics on his animals.
Foodies love the meat, too. “It’s actually endless what you can do with it,” said chef Kirt Martin of Snake River Grill in Hagerman, who raises his own rabbits. He recommends braising rabbit, then using the meat in wraps, salads or pasta. Martin describes the flavor as “mild and wonderful.”
“To me, rabbit tastes like chicken used to when I was a child,” he said.
As more stores and restaurants offer the meat, interest is growing.
“As far as looking for variety in your diet, rabbit meat is an excellent way to get that,” Andersen said.