Friday, June 10, 2011

The Freedom Rangers

These are not ordinary chickens. Despite their adorable little faces, they're not what they seem. No. These are Freedom Rangers being raised specifically for meat.

When I decided to raise chickens for meat, I didn't want to raise the vastly more popular Cornish Cross for several reasons. But at the top of the list was the fact that I was uncomfortable about consuming their meat.  Cornish Cross have been known to eat themselves to death, dying of heart failure and quite possible, other ruptured organs such as enlarged gall bladders. Apparently, if allowed to eat feed all day, they would gorge themselves, yet at some point they get so heavy that their feet can't support their weight and they won't even get up to get a drink of water. They don't forage, reproduce, or wander much around the chicken yard. All this just doesn't seem natural and has given me cause to pause and consider other options.

Instead, I opted to try Freedom Rangers which are said to be similar to the birds raised in France and other countries for the Label Rouge program. They are known to happily peck, scratch, and forage a bit more and act like a regular chicken. While they don't get quite as large as a Cornish Cross and they must be raised a few weeks longer, many feel the taste of the bird is worth the extra feed and time. 

That's all fine a good, but you need to know that my experience with the Freedom Rangers has shown me they're much more like Cornish Cross than a heritage breed dual purpose chicken such as a Buff Orpington. (Keep in mind that the "Meat Bird" or "Broiler" category which includes both Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers is a relatively new concept.)

First, these chicks act like they're starving all the time! Despite having full crops, they continue to act like they weren't fed for days. When I refill the feeder (which I do often), it's a feeding frenzy and every chick for himself...

I bought a new large feeder today so that I won't have to keep refilling it with feed. 

Second, they are having severe leg issues. I've raised quite a few chicks and never have I had any with problems with their little legs going out from under them constantly to where they can't stand up. It's so sad to see them like this. Breaks my heart! And three have died already as a result. 

Forgive the messy coop floor. While they've had access to an enclosed run, I have not been able to put them out in the yard in the chicken tractor due to the cool weather, but tomorrow they graduate and the coop will be cleaned out.

I should mention that the leg issues might be a result of the feed rather than the breeding. Everyone in my homesteading group who ordered these chicks together also used the same feed - except for one individual who used another feed. We all had chicks with leg issues except the one who used the other feed. Hmmm... makes me wonder. And if that isn't evidence enough, another homesteader fed the same feed to her turkeys and they had leg issues as well. I plan on contacting the company to see if they've had any complaints.

At this point, I would not opt to raise Freedom Rangers again. My experience has been too much like that of raising the Cornish Cross. But I have to weigh the fact that the feed could have been part of the issue and once they're out in the grassy area, I may feel differently. But even if I the rest of their short lives goes relatively smoothly and their meat is fabulous, I plan on raising a heritage breed this fall just to compare the difference (see a related chart here). I'm keeping notes on the expenses as well as the experience and I'll let you know what I think after it's all said and done.

I also wanted to share my new watering system... chicken nipples. I purchased these with the homesteading group as well and then inserted them into the bottom of a bucket using the nipples with rubber grommets. The chicks then tap the nipple with their beak and water comes out. What a difference! The new chicks figured it out almost immediately and the waterer is so much easier to clean and refill, plus it doesn't need to be replenished as often. If only it had a lid - but it's not a big deal because it still stays cleaner than any waterer I've used before.

Once in a while I bleach it by setting the bucket inside another bucket (so the nipples don't get damaged by setting it down on the ground or in a sink) and then I let it soak that way for about an hour. Time will tell if the bleach will break down the rubber grommet, but it's pretty diluted, so I hope it won't. To hang it on the wall, I used a bucket with a flat back (a horse bucket from the feed store) and set it in a bracket that is attached to the wall (also from the feed store). When I move the Freedom Rangers out to the chicken tractor, they'll have to go back to using a regular old waterer, and the new layers will get a chance to try the chicken nipples. I purchased several so I hope to switch over entirely to these very soon!

I'd like to hear your experience with Freedom Rangers and Heritage Breeds. Which do you prefer? 


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