Thursday, July 28, 2011

Freedom Rangers and Feed

It's been 13 weeks since my Freedom Rangers arrived and they're ready for dinner. We'll almost. Saturday is the first day that I'm going to start butchering them. My homesteading group is having a... well, let's call it an "event"!

Originally, our group compiled an order of over 100+ freedom rangers. Most of us took 20-25 birds; all from the same batch. But from there, we each raised them on our own feeding program. And we learned a lot by comparing notes.

I used an corn- and soy- free organic feed for the first 10 weeks. The first feed I used was a 22% protein crumble, but I began to notice that their legs were developing issues. It seemed that the feed was missing a nutrient and so after about 3 weeks, I switched to another corn- and soy- free brand with 19% protein. No more chickens developed leg problems, but I had lost 5 of my initial 25 birds. (For those interested, I was free feeding up through the third or fourth week, then when I wanted them foraging, I backed off up to the 10th week). 

Growth was slow and I began to wonder if they'd ever get big enough to make this venture worth the time, effort, and costs. While most of the other homesteaders used either the same feed or a similar corn- and soy- free feed, one member used a feed with corn and the difference was amazing! Her birds were nearly double the size than most of the others by 10 weeks. She killed a couple and they dressed out at around 5 pounds each. 

Perhaps you already knew this little fact - CORN ADDS FAT! Now, I knew it fattened me! And that it's used to fatten up cows before slaughter. But I hadn't really thought about the fact that it would fatten my poultry. 

Sometimes I can be a bit slow figuring this kind of thing out. 

After seeing my friend's chickens and realizing the reason they were larger, I made the decision that if I wanted enough weight on the birds, I'd have to add some feed with corn to finish them and start free feeding again. And it has made all the difference. In one week, they went from around 3.5 pounds to nearly 5. Now that it's been another 2 weeks, they're laying down a lot more than before and moving slower. But they're still foraging and happy!

If I were to raise Freedom Rangers again, I'd switch to the corn feed or something similar at 6 or 7 weeks instead of 10 and see if I could trim off a couple of weeks of feed by butchering earlier. (Ideally, I'd like to do so at 11 or 12 weeks.) The older they get, the more feed they go through in a week, so by trimming off one week, I can save a bit on each bird. 

By my calculations, each bird will cost me around $10.50 or about $2.10 per pound, give or take. Now lest you think that is outrageous, in California, a whole free range organic bird is $2.99 per pound, so you can see that despite my poor feed management, I'll be coming out ahead...  I hope! I'll be sure to post my final costs when I weigh them after processing. 

There's so much more to talk about when it comes to raising meat birds; a lot of which I haven't even covered. At this point, I'm not sure I'll choose Freedom Rangers again. I'll have to do a taste test before I make a final decision. There's so much to consider... which breed to raise, what kind of feed you want them consuming, should they forage, is the goal to keep cost down, etc. And then there's the concern that some folks have regarding corn products - many feel even the organic corn has been contaminated with GMO corn. It's enough to drive you crazy trying to decide it all. Can't it just be simple!!??

I'm sure I won't be complaining much when I take that first bite of delicious chicken!


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