I might end up needing a new category for our meat chickens. We are trying out (a few of) a new breed this year.

The “traditional” meat bird nowadays (i.e. the kind you’re used to seeing in the grocery store) is a Cornish Cross (CX). I’m not sure if these are actually bred from a Cornish bird and something else, or if they were based on the Cornish, crossed, and became their own breed. [By the way, if you’ve ever eaten those small “cornish game hens” they’re just younger Cornish Crosses – hen and cockerel.] They’re the ones I’ve always referred to as “meat mutants” and there’s a reason for that.

Oh they start out so cute!

Even the good ol’ boys around here, the ones who embrace chemical/industrial agriculture for all it’s worth, hate these birds. My neighbor has had to hold the birds’ bodies in a bucket of water when he raised them into June. The heat was killing them. I’ve chronicled here (some of) the losses we’ve dealt with. They grow from egg-sized to dinner-sized in 7 or 8 weeks – 5 weeks in “the industry.” Their legs are prone to bone problems, their heart and lungs can be overwhelmed by their body’s needs. Any little thing can overwhelm their system and drag them into the grave. Or so it seems. Too, because of their massive growth and heavy weights, they really don’t even like to move. Scratching for bugs, bathing in the dust, acting like normal chickens? Not even close. They even sit down to eat. 🙂

..But they get ugly real quick!

This year I was really excited to see that the hatchery that serves the farm stores in our area was offering another option for meat production. The Red Ranger. I’ve read for years about the Freedom Ranger, (which I can’t get very easily), and they seem on par with those. They grow slower, probably stay smaller (I know people who have gotten CX to dress out over 8 lbs), and take a little longer. They’re also about 3 times the price for the chick. However, they’re supposed to be well suited for pasture-based operations (hence the name ‘ranger’), and if they can keep themselves alive a little better than the mutants, I’m all in. 🙂 Actually, we only ordered about 1/3 of our total order in these – we didn’t want to jump completely into something that we had no experience with – but *so far* things are looking good with them (I think we’re about a month in).

These photos were taken when they were a week or two old. They have lost the blonde fluff and have become mostly red/brown.

A few years ago we got straight run standard breeds (that is, “real” chickens, both pullets [young females] and cockerels) and butchered the roosters of the bunch. Instead of 2 months, we waited 4-5. And even the ‘heavy breeds’ turned out a carcass that you would NOT really think of for dinner. It’s probably our modern expectations, but where your chicken dinner has a well-rounded breast, these had a pointy ridge along the keel-bone, and a breast that sloped almost straight down (to the sides) from there. You could eat them (we did), but you weren’t going to use one of them to feed the family dinner, then lunch, then soup! They looked like they’d suffered in some kind of concentration camp, though they were actually living well. So we abandoned that option. I hope these Red Rangers perform well and are big enough to feed us. That might be the best of both worlds.