In mine and my husband's continuing effort to be more self-sufficient, less dependent on grocery stores, and have more control over what we eat, we started raising meat chickens this past spring. A free ranging meat bird would not have worked in our situation at the time; we were living in a rental house with limited land and close neighbors. Because of these constraints, I was led to the Cornish Cross for our choice to raise. They are a meat chicken that is bred to grow very quickly (8 weeks to slaughter) and do well in confinement. They will not even forage for food themselves even if given the opportunity over a commercial feed source, and are bred to have limited feathering on their chest which makes them easier to pluck. I received them as day old chicks at the end of May, and had them processed at the end of July right at the 8 week mark. There are some things that I learned about this breed in my very short time with them.
So to sum them up:
Towards the end of the Cornish Cross' life I had to order my next round of meat chicks if I wanted to have enough chicken to get me through the year without having to purchase any at the grocery store. However, I did not want to go with the Cornish Cross again. My living situation had changed, my husband and I purchased 10.5 acres surrounded by several hundred acres of protected land, aka enough room to raise some ranging meat birds. This led me to explore the Red Ranger as a potential option. A meat bird that is known for it's foraging abilities, hardiness, and tasty meat but with a longer growth period. I also received them as day old chicks in August and had them processed the first weekend in December. There are some things I learned about them.
So to sum them up:
So What's Best?
As far as ease of raising goes, I would say that the Red Rangers are easier, because they don't need to be constantly fed like the Cornish. But, they do take longer to reach slaughter weight, especially if you allow them to free range like I did. I personally am a firm believe in "you are what you eat" which is why I am pushing so hard to eat as much of what I grow and raise myself. I do not want to eat a chicken that was genetically designed to grow at an unnatural rate, sacrifice health, and not even display normal characteristics. I feel like that's marginally better than grocery store meat. I believe in raising meat in an ethical, humane manner, that is as close their natural conditions as possible which is why I highly recommend the Red Ranger.
So, what's the best chicken to raise? Despite the difference in size, hands down I will say Red Rangers. I 100% attribute the smaller birds after processing to the weather. I knew that going into it, and said I wouldn't raise them that late in the year again. The Rangers ate considerably less food, but they were also given a large pasture to range on and forage for themselves. Because of all of this walking around, they burned more calories than a Cornish Cross that will sit in front of the feed dish. But, walking around and foraging is a natural chicken behavior, lying down in your own feces is not. There was also a noticeable difference in the smell and taste of the Red Ranger meat versus the Cornish Cross. The Red Ranger's fat was yellow as opposed to white which is indicative of a pastured diet, and the meat was more flavorful-due to a more active lifestyle. As I was cutting them up, I even noticed a difference in the smell. It is hard to describe, but the Red Rangers smelled like they had been seasoned with a rub, almost a sweet but savory smell. It is very difficult to explain, but it's there and is noticeable in smell and taste.
The Cornish Cross have been bred for one purpose: to put on weight quickly in all the right places, and be able to do so on a large scale/confinement setting. They do this job well. I however am not a large scale poultry farm that is trying to feed the masses, but my family. So for me, it isn't about pumping out as many birds in as short of a time as possible, but raising a more natural, happier, free ranging meat chicken.
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