Freedom Rangers: A Meat Bird Alternative

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A few months back, a customer emailed us wondering about “Freedom Ranger” chickens. A friend of his was raising them and he was curious. I had never heard of them and got curious, too. So I started doing some research.

The name gets your attention, doesn’t it? Makes you think of America, and self sufficiency, and independence! All the good stuff, right?

OK – stop right there because the good ol’ Internet has an awful lot of misinformation floating around there about these guys!

Courtesy of Wendy Smoak FlickrTHE NAME GAME

First, there’s a good reason for that catchy name, kids: marketing. Yep, the Freedom Ranger is a brand name for a hybrid chicken. There’s also Red Rangers and Black Rangers. That means you can’t breed ‘em at home. They come from a cross of 4 different breeds so if you hatch out the eggs, they won’t be the same as the parents.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of the chickens sold specifically as meat birds are hybrid birds, created from a cross between a few different breeds, designed to grow fast and plump and be little eating machines. And the most popular of these are the Cornish and White Rock cross breeds.


But you’ll find sites out there calling these a “heritage breed” and forums where people talk about how wonderful they are so they can raise their own meat birds from the eggs of these chickens who will sit on them and be broody hens. Not true. There are sites that say the Cornish Cross breeds are “genetically modified”: also not true except that they’re bred for certain characteristics, just like that early producing tomato I grow every year to guarantee some tomatoes by July.

There are sites that seem to claim they can get most of their food supply by free ranging. Not true either. Without a high protein, but balanced food source, you’re gonna end up with birds that have health problems (one may be incurable: death) and birds that will take a looong time to reach an eating weight.

We’re not going to get into any of the big thorny issues that people raise about monopolies on breeding stock and who controls what and “Big Agriculture” business; that’s a whole other story for another day so don’t ask!

Take a deep breath. Don’t get sucked into the nonsense.

THE MATH (FOR US REGULAR FOLK)By Jessica Reeder (P1080817) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When you’re raising a bunch of birds strictly for meat, it makes a lot of sense to do them all in a big batch: you get all the chicks at the same time, raise them all together for a few weeks, and then butcher and process them all at once. You’re then set with your year’s supply of chicken for the family or to sell. These are the breeds the “big guys” like Perdue use and the organic, pastured poultry guys like Joel Salatin use.

And it makes a lot of sense to raise these birds as fast as possible, as cheaply as possible, in the most healthy way as possible. You want to lose as few chickens (ideally none!), have no health issues, and make your profit margin as large as possible:

cost of feed + care + cost of chickens / by pounds of meat after butchering = cost per pound of meat


Now I don’t care if you’re raising these for a business or for your family but I know you do not want to end up paying some ridiculous price for your efforts (if you do, please call me and let’s discuss a business venture!)

Your cost difference comes down to the amount of feed you have to give the birds. That can be kept lower by reducing the number of weeks until they’ve reached a butchering weight; it can be kept low by free ranging to reduce the amount of feed you have to buy. So far I haven’t found anyone who has done a test that compares exactly the same type of feed and the same type of free ranging between the two breeds and offered any kind of definitive answer.


The advantages of the Cornish Cross hybrids is that they convert their feed well and efficiently. They’re economical. The Freedom Rangers do, too, but at a little slower of a pace which helps them mostly avoid the health problems that faster growing meat birds can be prone to like leg problems and heart attacks (due to overeating). With the reduction of leg problems you’re trading off for less breast meat (so less white meat) and either a lower weight bird or a few additional weeks to slaughter, compared to the other meat breeds. You’re still not escaping these problems entirely and have to watch. But keeping a feeder full of food of them at all times isn’t recommended for either breed. We’re talking chickens with some eating issues here…

Courtesy of Cowgirl Jules FlickrHOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO FEED THEM?

So to give you an idea of what to expect, the Freedom Rangers are supposed to reach their butchering weight of 5-6 pounds in about 12 weeks.

Cornish Cross breeds generally – and the same variances apply here – you’re talking 5-6 pounds in about 7 weeks.

By the way, you will find this differs depending on your source because it’s gonna depend on the feed and the protein levels and the specific genetics of the breeding strain you’ve bought. Don’t take any one source’s word for the gospel truth.

Also keep in mind a few things: Males get plump faster than females; and either way, there’s definitely a learning curve involved with raising these breeds. But don’t let that scare you off. Trust me – it’s possible (and not as hard as you’d think!). But you will be relieved come butchering day because regardless of breed, compared to any laying hens you’ve raised, these puppies can eat!


Now, to get a little technical, Mother Earth News had an article in 2010 by Harvey Ussery – who’s written extensively on chickens and homesteading for many years – where he wrote about the details of raising Freedom Rangers compared to Cornish Cross. He started the birds out on relatively high protein feed (24%) but started to see extremely fast growth and leg problems so he dropped down to 20% feed and then, a few weeks later, to 15% and supplemented it with whole oats.

In another article, the producer raised them using only 17% protein feed but did lose some birds and they were slower to reach a good butcher weight. I find this very interesting since I’ve always started my Cornish Cross out on the highest protein feed I could get (actually it was a game bird feed, at 28% protein). I like the idea that using a lower protein, and less costly, feed can have the same results. However, it’s still cautioned that you should not always have feed available as they can tend to overeat, just like the Cornish.

FREE BIRD?Courtesy of Green Mountain Girls Farm

The advantages of the rangers seems to be more of an ability to forage for their food. They’re better adapted for free ranging and have more energy than the Cornish do for it. The Cornish will forage and free range but not quite as aggressively as you’ll see with the “old timey” breeds who will knock you down to get to that flying insect. Some of mine are more eager to plop down on the grass and relax. Of course, they’ll still eat the grass around them, just from a non-moving position!

Another big difference is when it comes time to butcher. The Freedom Rangers have dark pinfeathers. If you’re raising these to sell, consumers aren’t used to seeing that on the skin; you’re family isn’t either if you’ve been used to grocery store chicken. It’s not considered as attractive and is definitely something to consider if you’re trying to make a go of a business or even if you want the kids to eat the dinner you made for tonight without dealing with the “Eww…it looks weird” thing.

PARLEZ-VOUSE FRANCAIS? Photo ID 556170 UN PhotoRick Bajornas

Back at the start of this post, we mentioned the name was for marketing. However, the genetics for these Freedom Ranger birds come from France – specifically from a company that developed chickens for a strictly government regulated quality labeling system called Label Rouge. These are chickens that are required spend a certain amount of time outdoors with a specified amount of space for each. The label is considered top of the line there. Maybe this is more patriotic than you think considering the French gave us the Statue of Liberty and they do have Bastille Day on July 14th, kind of their own version of our “Independence Day”?

Some good reputable links for more information:

And, I’m not sure how definitive this is, since it’s just one farm, on one season but it is interesting:

Photos courtesy of: 1. Wendy Smoak Flickr 2. Jessica Reeder (P1080817) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 3. Cowgirl Jules Flickr 4. Green Mountain Girls Farm 5. Photo ID 556170 UN Photo: Rick Bajornas


Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

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So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website:
Dakota’s “Big Mac”:
Pastured Poultry information:
Chicken photo courtesy of:
Gumbo photo courtesy of:


How To Kill Chickens Humanely

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Warning: this subject can be upsetting to some people.

It’s hard to take a life, even if it’s necessary. There are many reasons why you would need to know how to kill a chicken. Sometimes if they’re injured and need to be put down. Sometimes they just get old and it’s time to cull. Or if you’re raising chickens for meat, you’ll need to know this valuable skill.

Most importantly, you don’t want to say to yourself that you’ll never do this to YOUR chickens and then be put into a situation where you MUST.


You’re Raising Broilers— But Do You Know the Finer Points of Chicken Meat?

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Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture

If you have the space available, raising chickens for meat is an inexpensive and easy way to provide your family with the healthiest possible poultry. A healthy diet, exercise, and sunlight does a bird good. Not only are the birds healthier, but organically raised chickens are fed organic feed, free from the pesticides and chemical fertilizers their factory counterparts dine on. Your backyard birds won’t be on a constant diet of antibiotics either. Your poultry will be less likely to be infected with food-borne-illness causing pathogens, your birds will grow to be leaner and meatier due to exercise and free movement, and your meat will taste better too. What isn’t there to love?

Roasted, broiled, grilled, or fried, chicken is an amazingly versatile meat. Dark meat or light? It’s a matter of preference. One is not truly superior to the other, although there are some nutritional differences. While they have nearly the same amount of calories and protein, light meat is slightly less caloric (21 calories less, according to the US Department of Agriculture Database). Dark meat has twice the amount of saturated fat but they both contain vitamins  B and A and 4% of the recommended daily allowance of thiamin.  Dark meat has double the riboflavin as light meat while light meat contains more niacin. As you can see, both have their benefits. While white meat may be the healthiest choice for the cholesterol conscious, neither is bad for you. It’s really a matter of what one prefers. Americans tend to prefer white meat, while in some Asian countries it is dark meat that is desired.

Boneless, skinless chicken breast is an excellent part of a low-fat, healthy diet. Why? Low in saturated fat, high in protein, and vitamin rich, there aren’t many other meats out there that have so much to offer. A serving of chicken has fewer calories than a serving of beef as well as fewer grams of saturated fat and cholesterol. There’s a reason that nutritionists say to avoid red meat and choose chicken instead. It’s better for you. Raising your own chickens will provide you with the healthiest possible chicken meat. Remember, quality food, space to roam, and sunshine create a great chicken. The healthier the environment, the healthier the resulting meat.

Whether you’re simply considering raising broilers (meat chickens) or whether you already have a flock, backyard farming is an enjoyable and hugely rewarding hobby. Do your research, find the breed that’s right for you, and enjoy.