I mentioned that one of our three batches of chicks this year was a new offering from the local(ish) hatchery. Red Rangers they are called, and I *think* they may be a strain based on the Freedom Rangers that I’ve read about the past few years. Better suited for pasture operations and such.
Before I share with you how the Red Rangers went, it’s helpful to know what the industry “standard” breed is like – the Cornish Cross (if you’ve read very far on the Meat Mutant tag, you’ll know most of this). The Cornish Cross is the white-feathered beefy chicken that you buy in the grocery store. BIG, round breasts, lots of meat, and they accomplish this really quickly. A “real” chicken takes about 16-20 weeks to become edible size, and even then you’d think they were half-starved… No full-breasted, round chests, but keelbones making a sharp ridge along the center, and breast meat a fraction of the quantity you’re used to seeing. A Cornish Cross in a factory setting goes from egg to grocery store in 5 – that’s FIVE – weeks. Home growers usually go 6 – 8 weeks, still FAR less time than regular breed chickens. The habits of a Cornish Cross are few; eat, grow and poop. They are bred to eat – and they always think they’re starving. They grow so much so fast that often their hearts can’t take it, their legs can hardly stand it, and they’re prone to all kinds of problems (like the ascites that plagued us – a domino effect including with oxygen needs, lung function and blood pressure). They don’t like to walk after a certain age (weight?), and they mostly sit waiting to digest their food. You actually have to restrict feed for their own good, so when you refill their feeder after their ‘time off,’ you’d think it was a frenzy of piranhas inhaling until their crop (the ‘feed sack’ at the base of their throat) swells to an amazing size. We move them daily once they’re old enough to be out from the lamps, and they will eat a bit of grass and greens (we also give them clipped grass and greens when they are smaller, though they don’t eat a lot of it).
Consider all that for comparison. When the Red Rangers were about a month old we started dragging their pen to new ground every day. They happened to be in our backyard (which also has tufts of alfalfa here and there). The first time we moved them out they immediately attacked the alfalfa and STRIPPED all the leaves from the stems. When they only had grass, they would ‘mow’ it and you could track where they’d been by the length of the grass (the exception is where the grass is REALLY tall – like past my knees – they were intimidated by the jungle and mostly just mashed it down). Each time I moved it (sometimes twice a day) they would crowd to the front of the pen and start picking and eating the fresh grass. I *really* like this from a dietary/nutritional standpoint. More greens = more Omega-3s, CLA, etc.
There are downsides. We butchered these at about 10 and 11 weeks of age; older than the Cornish, for sure, and at average weights of 3.9 lbs (10 week old cockerels) and 3.6 lbs (11 week pullets). That’s smaller than our usual Cornish Cross dress out (keep in mind, however, that this does not include heart/gizzard/liver which are usually part of the weight of a store bird). See previous years’ stats here and here. They also don’t look like a Cornish, either before or after processing. They’re… longer. 🙂 Where the Cornish are squat and beefy and round and thick, these are longer and fairly streamlined. Their breast meat is shallower but long and of decent quantity. Their hindquarters seem long and well muscled.
We roasted one for dinner recently. The taste is excellent. They are tender and delicious, and even the kids noticed how long the leg bone was. I made broth and soup with the carcass (including a couple of backs/necks/breastbones from some Cornish) and it was fantastic too.
I don’t know what the exact cost breakdown is for this breed. Our initial chick price was nearly 3 times the price of the cornish, but our survival rate was much, much better. I fed them for several weeks longer, but they also ate less ferociously. They also took a lot of forage in the diet. I tried to keep costs separate, but feed sacks piled in the shed, and hauling buckets to several pens and dumping feed, well, eventually it all just melded together and I only have overall costs instead.
Presently, we are considering exclusive Red Ranger production for ourselves next year. Because there are no special “sale days” I can have them arrive later without taking an additional hit in price. Also I would like to be able to compare feed consumption/cost considering they take in so much forage (and considering I am so bad at separating feed sacks in the shed). They seem to come in somewhat smaller, but not unreasonably so. So far we think the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.