Rabbit for dinner - Steve and Kay Doyon breed animals for local restaurants at Song Away Farm

Steve and Kay Doyon with "Koko," a fine example of the Californian breed, one of more than 40 breeding does in their rabbitry at Song Away Farm in Loudon. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Steve and Kay Doyon with "Koko," a fine example of the Californian breed, one of more than 40 breeding does in their rabbitry at Song Away Farm in Loudon. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)


LOUDON — "Education is our marketing campaign," said Steve Doyon, an engineer with the Dam Bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, who with his wife Kay, a nurse, has been raising rabbits for restaurant tables and family kitchens at Song Away Farm for the past five years.

Kay said that despite culinary and nutritional qualities of rabbit, it has been slow to gain popularity in New England. She explained that rabbit, while very high in easily digestible protein, is low in both fat and cholesterol and rich in minerals and low in calories compared to other meats. In southern states, she said, rabbit is commonly served in hospitals, especially to patients with digestive disorders.

In 2014, New Hampshire enacted a statute allowing certified farms to sell as many as 1,000 rabbits to restaurants without undergoing inspection by either the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food or the United States Department of Agriculture. Today Steve said that by catering to a number of restaurants, "We are selling what we produce."

The Doyons began farming in 2002, when the news was rife with reports of tainted foodstuffs. They began with chickens, then added turkeys and pigs.

"The tom turkeys bark like a dog," Kay said, "and if we could hear them, our neighbors could hear them. And the pigs were a lot of work."

"We were dabbling," said Steve, "and about five years ago we focused on rabbits."

Most of their stock are Californians, snowy white with black ears, noses and feet, which share space with some New Zealands and Americans, both white rabbits. The rabbitry, a dedicated space in the barn always filled with music and kept above 40 degrees, is lined with spacious cages, some with boxes filled with straw where breeding does give birth and rear their kits, others holding a lone breeding buck or doe and still others alive with growing rabbits.

"We buy only from certain breeders and may quarantine new rabbits. We're very selective," she said, stressing that their goal is to improve the breed as well as produce meat by working with "show quality" stock. The ideal rabbit, Steve explained, has the shape of a toaster — square with rounded corners — with weight in the haunches and along the back. "Every rabbit has a name," she said, their health and breeding schedule closely monitored and recorded.

Steve said that does are bred between 6 and 10 or even 14 weeks between litters, depending on their condition.

"We don't work them too hard," he said, adding that breeding does are retired after about three years, again depending on their condition and size of their litters. He calculated that they breed four times a year and average litters of seven kits, the 45 breeding does produce more than 1,250 rabbits.

The rabbits are fed a varied diet, high in protein and fiber, of organic alfalfa pellets, oats, barley, hay and sunflower, along with homegrown organic wheat fodder in winter and fresh garden greens in spring and summer. They are raised without antibiotics or hormones and packaged without preservatives or additives.

The Doyons raise "fryers," rabbits that reach four-and-a-half to six pounds in weight within 9 to 11 weeks, which represents between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half pounds of meat. fetching about $7 per pound. Fryers, Kay explained, are the most tender and versatile rabbits, suited to the widest variety of recipe. Steve said that, with their breeding regimen, each doe produces between 60 and 70 pounds of meat in a year, a fraction of the output of large commercial operations where does are bred every four or five weeks. He added that rabbits, common prey in their natural environment, are sensitive animals prone to stress and do not fare well under factory farming conditions.

Rabbit from Song Away Farm is served at a number of restaurants, including Tek-Nique in Bedford, the Granite Restaurant at the Centennial Inn in Concord and Moxy and the Black Trumpet , both in Portsmouth.

Evan Mallet, the chef and owner of the Black Trumpet, guessed that a half-dozen restaurants in Portsmouth serve rabbit from time to time. He recalled that dining on rabbit in 1998 "got me back in the kitchen after years as a food writer." But, when China became the sole source of rabbits, the quality was so poor that he struck it from the menu.

"The Doyons," he said, "were the key to the success of getting rabbit back on our menu. Their rabbits are the most favorful and consistent," he said. "Just sensational."

Currently he is serving rabbit paella, featuring meatballs, snails, peppers, leeks and mushrooms.

"The meatballs are to die for," Doyon remarked.

Kay said that rabbit, like chicken, to which it is often likened, takes on the flavors of the seasonings and spices it is prepared with and can be substituted for chicken in a variety of recipes.


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2 men swim to safety after SUV breaks through ice

MOULTONBOROUGH — Two ice fishermen men who were riding in a Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicle when it broke through the ice Friday near Whaleback Island on Lake Winnipesaukee were able to escape from the vehicle as it sank and clamber onto the ice where they were picked up by snowmobilers and taken to shore.
Fire Chief David Bengston said that the two local men had driven onto the ice in the Balmoral Beach area and were near Whaleback Point at around 12:30 p.m. when the vehicle broke through the ice.
He said that they were able to swim to an area where the ice was safer and were walking back towards the shore when they were picked up by fellow ice fishermen on snowmobiles.
Bengston said that when they arrived back at Balmoral Beach, they were treated by rescue personnel from the Tuftonboro Fire Department, who had brought the department's air boat to the scene, and Stewart's Ambulance.
"Both showed signs of hypothermia but refused treatment and got rides home from their friends," said Bengston.
He said that the area where the SUV went into the lake is between 15 and 30 feet deep and that the Fish and Game Department was called to the scene and will be working with the owner of the vehicle to determine how to get it out of the lake. Bengston said that the Department of Environmental Services is aware of the situation.

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Three graduate from drug abuse program, look forward to better lives outside of jail (605) (photo)


LACONIA — The first three inmates of the Belknap County Jail to complete the Corrections Opportunity for Recovery and EducatioN program, or CORE, a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program, graduated yesterday at a ceremony Keith Gray, superintendent of the Department of Corrections, called "a big deal for them and a big deal for us."

Surrounded by family and friends, all three — Brianna D'Amore, Joseph McCormick and James Rivers — echoed D'Amore, who said that the program "has given me a fighting chance at life."

Gray noted that for too long his department has been unable to offer substance abuse programming for want of resources, personnel and space, but stressed that "the CORE program will be the driving force behind our community corrections program in 2017.

The Department of Corrections is offering the program through a partnership with Horizons Counseling Center of Gilford, whose executive director Jacqui Abikoff told the graduates she hopes "they make good use of the program" and reminded them "It's just the beginning." She said that the three-month program consists of between 12 and 15 hours a week in class and "lots of homework" aimed at fostering a thorough understanding of the physical, mental and behavioral aspects of addiction and developing a strategy for each individual to pursue their recovery. "Each one of them has a plan to combat addiction and manage their recovery," she said.

"It's a life-long battle," Abikoff said, adding that the program provides recovering addicts with tools to combat their addiction and manage their recovery. "It treats their addiction and changes their thinking," she said. "They will understand the way their addiction talks to them."

Travis Dickinson, an inmate enrolled the program and set to graduate in March, congratulated the three graduates, who he said "persevered through adversity to be here today." Noting that "addiction has destroyed so much and hurt so many," he said "We learn that we cannot cure this disease ourselves." The program, he continued, "cultivates an awareness of life," which includes a respect and affection for others.

"Simple acts of selflessness become commonplace," he remarked. "We now have hope. We dream again."

Eying the three graduates, he reminded them that the "responsibility of a clean and sober life rests squarely on their shoulders."

McCormack confessed he was nervous about what would happen when he completed the program, whether he would be capable of resisting addiction. But, he said that he is confident of his recovery.

"I'm alive, healthy and sober with the opportunity to be be a good father," he said. "I have a second chance at life."

D'Amore was all smiles and aglow, but confessed "public speaking is not my strength," then said that "this program has given me a second chance at life."

Rivers declined to step to the podium, but later said that he was pleased and proud to have completed the program and looked forward rejoining his family and raising his son.

While D'Amore will be released shortly, both McCormick and Rivers still have time to serve. Abikoff said she expected both will qualify for work release and electronic monitoring, which will provide a gradual return to the community and an opportunity to pursue their recovery in a managed setting.

The first graduates of the Corrections Opportunity for Recovery and Education (CORE) program at the Belknap County Jail — Joe McCormick second from left) James Rivers (center) and Brianna D'Amore (right) celebrated their success at the county complex yesterday. Alongside his partner Brittany Poole, McCormick holds his two month old daughter Serenity while Rivers, with his wife Mimmet, holds their six month old son Parker. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

The first graduates of the Corrections Opportunity for Recovery and Education (CORE) program at the Belknap County Jail — Joe McCormick second from left) James Rivers (center) and Brianna D'Amore (right) celebrated their success at the county complex yesterday. Alongside his partner Brittany Poole, McCormick holds his two-month-old daughter Serenity while Rivers, with his sister, Mimmet, holds her six-month-old son, Parker. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

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