Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicken Pickin'

Some days I hate making decisions.  Let's face it, some are just easier than others.  Most days it's a snap.  Not because I am easily persuaded or a pushover.  Generally, I just know what's right for us and don't like alot of blah, blah, blah.

Ever since the Chicken Tractor magically materialized over the weekend I have been debating what breed of broilers to go with.  I have been following many of you closely on your choices too. 

Y'all know how I feel about white Chucky chickens.  Call me crazy, we all have our nightmarish phobias, right?   
However, in chatting with Stella, she has me re-thinking that many of the problems these poor birds are riddled with can be handled with proper care and nutrition. 

On the other hand, one bad birdie and it's bye-bye for me.  I have been scouring information and it all boils down to two choices:  Cornish X or the red broilers most commonly referred to as Freedom Rangers, Red Rangers or simply Red Broilers.  The last three breeds vary just slightly in some instances but for the most part are relatively the same from what I gathered.

Here is the ongoing debate in my bird brain: 

Cornish X commonly suffer from leg issues.  Their bodies grow so fast that their legs and bones can't keep up.  The tendons and ligaments can tear away, rendering them lame.  Supposedly, Freedom Rangers suffer fewer occurrences with this.

Freedom Rangers have been breed to maintain basic chicken characteristics, namely foraging.  So they are more likely to do well ranged in the Chicken Tractor and Electric Fence.  Cornish X have been known to epitomize the 'bird brain' mentality and not know what to do with a worm and walk away from it...if they can.

Cornish X have a high feed conversion to meat.  They are eating, pooping machines.  Which ultimately means they are ready to butcher in 6 - 8 weeks.  However, when they start creeping up there in 'age' you are more likely to encounter other issues as well.  Their little lungs are prone to flu-like diseases.  If they can't take in enough air, particularly in the heat and their hearts can't pump enough blood, they get lazy.  Who wouldn't?  You also run the risk of breast blisters at this point.  Apparently this can be attributed again to their legs not being strong enough to support the birds weight.  So they start laying down more often which puts pressure on the breast area where fluid can builds up (not necessarily rendering them inedible unless it gets infected).  Wait too long to butcher the Cornish X, and you could easily lose your flock on any of these accounts.

Freedom Rangers handle warmer weather better and grow a bit slower.  Typically they can be ready to butcher between 9-11 weeks.  This means more in feed costs.  However, they do forage which may balance the feed cost out.  Some folks claim they are like a fine wine and the added growth time makes them taste more "chicken-ee".

On both breed accounts, it's reported they can suffer all the same issues to some degree.  However, with proper care, the right balance of vitamins and nutrients, they both produce well.  Even to the point of getting them back on their feet in some cases.  Respiratory issues of course would require medical treatment of some sort, albeit home remedy or pharmaceuticals.

All that back and forth, blah, blah, blah business leads me to think that I should go with the Freedom Ranger as it may be less likely to freak me out.  I'll fly that flag!

Being the new Chicken Farmer that I am, methinks it might be the safest and less traumatic route.  However I have never been one to shy away either. 

And I'm kinda hungry.

Therefore, I may just conduct my own experiment and come to my own conclusions first hand.  I was able to find a couple of sites that I could get both breeds.  Not nearly as easy as one would have thought actually!

Of course, typically there is a minimum order of 25 chicks...Huh...gonna need a bigger Chicken Tractor!

Kidding!  Just thought I'd mess with Pig Pen a little...hehehee!

So, all you experienced Chicken Farmers, what do you think? 

Chicken Pot Pie Gal


  1. I am going out on left field here, and I am wondering why you even need to get a 'meat' bird. There are many heritage breeds that are used exclusively for meat and they can eat, walk, forage, reproduce (so no need to ever buy more), and have great health all on their own. You may invest more time to get to the end part, but it is a natural process instead of the genetically altered things they pass as chickens these days. I would think a bird that eats a natural forage diet would be better for you than a bird who has to eat packaged grain foods that you are at the mercy of sneaky corporations for. It would eliminate your having to chose the lesser or two evils. Just a thought.

  2. I have heard good things in an article in Mother Earth News about Freedom Rangers, that being said, I have also read a great article on Heritage Breeds in the same magazine that echoes exactly what Jane said. They have a ton on info on their website, maybe the article is referenced there. Good luck with all the decisions, I'm sure it's like anything else, it will take time and experience to figure out what works best for you.

  3. Jane, point taken. I chose my Buff Orpintons based on the fact that they are considered good meat birds for their broad frame. Technically, most classify them as dual purpose for their egg laying capacity.

    You know our birds are on organic feed and have lots of room to range. Even tho they hardly use it all by their own free will. I would care for any bird the same regardless of it's purpose.

    Freedom Rangers are gaining with the home farmer as an alternative to the Cornish X because most folks are disgusted with what is in the stores these days and that is the Cornish X.

    I haven't found anything that says they are genetically modified but lord knows they never tell us the truth until 20 years later. I know they are a selective hybrid breed as opposed to the common mutt by chance.

    Maybe I haven't come so far in this that I forgot to work a little on patience. Which makes me no better than the "I want it here/now" society we live in.

    So I suppose it does comes down to the time frame. Could I order more Buffs instead? Absolutely, I love everything about them. Would I love a Cornish X? Probably not. Could I love a Freedom Ranger, bet I could. Would I care for them all the same regardless? You betcha.

    Erin, thanks, yes I have sourced those too. I think the hardest part is knowing you might make the wrong choice and then what? I think they call that learning. But I may have slept thru that class.

  4. We've done 40 - 50 Cornish X's a year for four years now and I've only had one keel over and it was probably because of the excessive heat (remind me NOT to grow the birds out in the middle of the summer). We have them in a chicken tractor when they are big enough that they can't get through the chicken wire. Never had breast blisters either or broken legs. Not sure if it's because they are moving every day in the tractor but they never seemed lethargic to me....quite the opposite as they practically mob me (even flapping up on my back when I stoop down to put their food out). We don't let them get too large though as we butcher around 8 weeks.

    That said, I've also been looking into the Freedom Ranger. Not sure how long you need to get them to butchering size though. Knowing that they are going to be in the freezer, I don't really want to spend too much time with them, either being overly friendly or keeping them longer than I have to get them into the freezer. Guess I'm just one of those gals that don't want to wait too long for my chicken dinner!

  5. No comments on the breeds, as I don't have a flippin' clue (we are planning on butchering our egg layer breed roosters this year instead of giving them away), but I wanted to tell you the picture of that dang little Chucky doll scared the living bejeebers out of me. I'm gonna have nightmares.

  6. Carolyn Renee, sounds like you have had good experiences with them as well. That's good to know and thank you for sharing. Your odds have worked out well.

    Ruth, :o} Sorry about that!

  7. If you're looking for more thoughts on this, then please read on. I apologize ahead of time for the long comment.

    We raised 25 Freedom Rangers last summer/fall. It was a great experience.They were beautiful, healthy, red birds. Like you, we feed with organic whole grains, and also provide free range grazing. When we took them to the butcher he was very impressed. So much that he wanted to know where we got them, what we fed them etc. He liked what we were doing. They were also a joy to bring to the table. They were lean, healthy looking and very tasty birds. I highly recommend them.

    This spring we reluctantly tried the Silver Cross breed (sometimes it's a question of what's available locally). You can order anything online, but do you really want to ship living creatures hundreds or even thousands of miles? So far we've been impressed with this breed. We use a tractor too, and like the Freedom Ranger, they're voracious grazers. They are pretty birds too. We're going to keep one or two around permanently.

    Jane mentioned heritage birds. They're great of course. At the same time small farms have been raising cross breeds for years. It's all a matter of matching the right animal to the right region, even to the right farm. On this subject I highly recommend Wendell Berry's "Bringing it to the Table", Chapter four, "A Defense of the Family Farm".

  8. I second (third) what Jane said, and I think that ANY food, animal, whatever that has been bred thru the years for particular characteristics is going to be "less good" than a heritage breed / heirloom variety that hasn't been "in-bred". That SAID, I know that, whatever breed you choose, you will give them the very best possible life! So, whatever, don't stress about it too much, really! It's six of one, half a dozen of another. :) xo

  9. One of my favorite debates! I have raised the Cornish X and the reds and, other than the length of time it takes to raise them to eating age, have found both to be great birds. I am presently raising six (remember - I am a family of one) reds and they are coming along splendidly. Once you start raising multiples, the question of feed costs, etc. come more into focus. I have also raised Barred Rocks, which are a dual purpose chicken. I agree with all the commenters. And I highly recommend, as Jody does, Wendell Berry's book. Lots of good information here.

  10. Jody, thank you! Good to know your experience was a good one also. And yes, I think matching things up make sense. You have my curiosity up and now I am off to get that book!

    ChickenMama, I think you just described people not chickens! HA!! Only kidding... See this is why I don't like to think to hard. Because then it gets hard! Thanks for the encouragement!

    Susan, if I recall, you were the first one to put the reds under my radar too! I remembered your satisfaction with them. Now if only I had that darn book! I MUST know what it is all about!

  11. I've never raised cornish X but we are raising a knock-off version of Freedom Ranger now. They seem to be doing well and definitely do forage a lot compared to my friend's cornish X.

    As far as a dual purpose vs. meat bird, we are raising several heavier breeds to see if that would work for us. So far we butchered a 4 month old rooster and it was tiny - 2 lbs! I know this is because we don't "push" the layers as hard as we do the freedom rangers. They free range all day, getting food from us in the morning and evening. Maybe if we raised them the same way we do the meat chickens (in tractors in the portable netting with access 24/7 to food) they would grow faster.

    I'll be interested to see what you think raising both meat birds at the same time.

  12. Mandy, I think you touched on something interesting. The protein was a key factor in what I found most people with growth problems had in common. They gave them too much and too often. Often they would cut the levels back and problems faded as well. Dunno any of this firsthand of course (?)

  13. Huh, I guess I never thought about too much protein being an issue - good to know. Our freedom rangers always have access to food but I put it outside the coop in the morning. They are out foraging anyway and it keeps the poop spread out. And they seem to eat less when it is outside vs. in the coop. At dark, I put the food back in the coop but they go to sleep and don't eat too much. They are still growing like weeds though! Just incredible compared to our the dual purpose heritage breeds we have as layers.

  14. Very interesting post. We've gone round and round about this as well. Even though we didn't get any new chickens this year, our final thought is to not go with a specific meat breed. They just seem to have too many problems, plus, they are difficult to breed. We want a self-sustaining meat supply, so we need chickens that will reproduce. So, it's a heritage breed for us, probably Buff Orpingtons, which are dual purpose. It's true the heritage breeds don't have those huge meaty breasts, but we're okay with that. All the breeds we got were supposedly dual purpose, but I have to say that the Barred Hollands are on the small side. The Delawares were plumper and might be a good choice, but DH just likes the looks of the Buffs. Before that though, we need more chicken housing!

  15. Mandy, in the countless sites, forums and blogs I have been wandering thru, I saw on quite a few that many chicken keepers ran across protein excess causing problems. I would love to point you to those sites, but holy moly that'd be like retracing a cobweb on crack!

    Leigh, when we originally even thought about chickens we had sort of wrote of hatching our own simply out of lack of experience and knowledge. (maybe a bit of fear of a broody hen too?) Anyhoo, now that we have a bunch of them, it seems much less intimidating and we have plenty of room. Just last night we talked about keeping a rooster around and letting mother nature work her magic. We don't know yet how many roosters may be out there (if any). But if I had to pick which breed to keep around for that purpose, it would be the Buffs. I think they fit the bill real nicely and I really enjoy them. The Black Australorps are supposed to out lay them. So I really feel like I have a great heritage flock started already. Good layers and good meats.

    We will probably keep more as layers than we originally intended. Maybe 10 vs 6. I think my girls will be happy to hear that... :)

  16. Well, you certainly can drive yourself crazy with too much research and too many choices. But a little knowledge doesn't hurt either, does it?

    I'm with Leigh in that we've always gone with heritage breeds because of sustainability. Our birds almost always hatch out a batch or two of chicks every year. The new chicks we ordered this year are the first we've ordered in four years. (Or could it be five??)

    Okay, as you say, you've got your heritage nucleus already going. Why don't you go with your gut feeling and experiment with the meat bird variety you decide on. Heck, you can always try something different next year. I feel each breed (meat bird or regular egg layer) is gonna do differently depending on location, forage available, feed, living conditions, weather, etc. Have fun with it! You'll do just fine!

  17. MamaPea, I think Erin is better suited for research. She can process it, I just choke on it.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, you are an inspiration. You should just be everyones Mom! I always know when you are pointing your finger at me and when you are pulling me up by my bootstraps. xoxo

    I think we are going to try it and see what comes of it. You are right, there is no rule that we have to keep doing anything that doesn't work to our satisfaction. We'll take our lumps and move on and work on hatching heritage.

    Thank you!

  18. Judy, did we scare you?

    Erin, I should have just turned it over to you in the first place! ;o)

  19. We always got a mixed bag of "meat birds" from the hatchery. I like the look of a lot of different varieties and then you can kinda gauge which ones you like the best. No matter what you choose, though, I hope it works out well for ya!

  20. We were raising for three years now White Rocks. They have a spacious pen for the night and free range during the day. We feed about 200 g of organic grain per bird and day - the rest they have to find themselves outdoors.

    I'm glad to have found this blog as we won't raise this breed again next year! Even though I try to slow down their growth, they do have leg problems and sit down a lot, we did have breast blisters and they only eat grass if they have to!

    We have about 15 mixed Bantys as layers and they are as healthy as can be, good mothers and reliable layers. We were thinking of keeping one female Rock and cross it with our Banty rooster - that might work for us. But those oversized, ugly and stupid Rocks just don't work... but they are very good eating and sell good, too!

    It was a learning experience! Hard to get anything else locally and shipping is not what I like to do - so we will try the Rock - Banty cross.

    Happy Trails!