Wrong About Freedom Rangers

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/wrong-about-freedom-rangers-zb0z10zgri.aspx

Well, I was wrong about Freedom Rangers. In Cornish Cross or Heritage Chicken: Which Do You Prefer?, I wrote that they “fall somewhere between heritage chickens and Cornish Cross.” But if heritage breeds are at one end of the spectrum, and Cornish Cross are at the other, Freedom Rangers are much closer to the Cornish Cross end of the spectrum. I raised 26 Freedom Rangers this summer and fall.

Freedom Rangers 8 Weeks 

The Freedom Rangers did well on pasture; they may have foraged a bit more than the Cornish Cross that I raised last year. I received 26 chicks on July 30. That night, I put eight of the chicks under a broody hen. She raised those chicks until they were about five weeks old. The other chicks were brooded under a heat lamp, but had access to pasture when they were less than a week old. Because we had some pretty hot weather in August, making sure the chicks didn’t overheat during the day was more of a concern than keeping them warm.

I expected the chicks to grow more slowly than Cornish Cross, so I fed them 24-percent protein starter for several weeks. Then I realized how quickly they were growing and reduced the protein level to 20 percent. I started noticing many of the chicks walked much like Cornish Cross chickens — a slow, tromping gait. I backed the protein level to 15 percent. Before they were eight weeks old, one of the cockerels was virtually unable to walk, so I slaughtered him. Another cockerel was even less mobile by the pre-arranged processing date when the birds were 11½ weeks old (Poultry Processing: Processing Chickens in Fall 2010).

Not all the Freedom Rangers grew so fast. We had a pretty broad range of sizes in the flock. The smallest pullet provided a carcass that was about 3 pounds. The largest was probably a bit more than 6 pounds. (We only weighed a few.) This photo shows an average sized bird and the smallest bird.

Freedom Ranger Carcasses 

Costs and Efficiency 

I spent about $229.11 buying the chicks and feed. I fed about 530 pounds of commercial feed plus about 90 pounds of whole oats. The following numbers aren’t precise, but should be pretty close:

  • 620 pounds of feed produced 195 pounds of live birds (3.17 pounds of feed per pound of gain — about the expected ratio).
  • 130 pounds of meat (about $1.76 per pound)

I’m satisfied with the efficiency and the cost, but I’m disappointed the growth rate was so fast that it caused leg problems. I probably could have prevented that if I would have fed lower-protein feed from the start. I fed 19 percent feed to my Cornish Cross last year and didn’t have any leg problems. I mixed whole oats with their feed, too, and we didn’t process them until they were 11 weeks old.

The Freedom Ranger hatchery website says, “The genetic stock is derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken …” After some research, I discovered that the parents of the Freedom Rangers come from Hubbard, one of the largest poultry genetics companies in the world. That’s disappointing, too.

Raising these fast-growing birds is not that much fun. And it’s not sustainable. Any offspring Freedom Rangers produce won’t necessarily be like their parents because Freedom Rangers (like Cornish Cross) are a four-way hybrid.

Next year, I’m planning to raise real heritage-breed chickens for meat.

Top photo: Troy Griepentrog 
Bottom photo: Karen Keb