2010 20.4 12 Weeks Of Training with Freedom Rangers
Alternative to the traditional cornish-cross broiler proves worthy of name
About the breed
Freedom Rangers, an emerging breed of broilers for producers on all scales, are a unique and enjoyable addition to any agricultural operation, so long as the farmer is willing to give them regular attention, healthy doses of food and forage, and the basic, yet essential, infrastructure necessary to sustain a very hardy and durable breed.
Ranger genetics originated in 1960s France to meet the high standards of their Label Rouge program. Label Rouge is a sustainable farming standard French poultry producers aspire to meet, since it assures a higher price per pound for the farmer.
Freedom Rangers have a longer body, a smaller breast, and longer legs than the standard Cornish Cross. They are a slower growing chicken than Cornish Cross, and those who have had best success with raising them commercially recommend raising them to at least twelve weeks.
Their legs, thick and stout like those of the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, are much more sturdy, flexible, and sufficiently powered to carry their weight than those of the heavily in-bred Cornish Cross.
About our farm
At Growing Washington, we raise a variety of livestock with a limited amount of commercial success. In the end, our new generation and Latino farm team ends up sharing the responsibility of raising our livestock and subsequently sharing the meat, which often means that we all spend those special moments together trying to round up our escaped pigs eating and rooting in our neighbor’s lawn.
Our livestock rarely makes it to market. We are by no means livestock experts, but we do have experience raising turkeys, broilers, layers, and pigs. So, if can successfully raise Freedom Rangers we are confident that any other farmer can do the same.
We decided to raise Freedom Rangers this year mainly because we figured the name alone would do half of our marketing and we were also hoping to raise some broilers without feeling bad when, inevitably, a half-dozen or more birds end up practically unable to carry themselves under their own weight for the last weeks of their lives. Around our farm
we expect everyone to carry their weight, birds included.
Initially, it was challenging to source Freedom Rangers. Thanks to our friends at Google, we found a great hatchery out of Pennsylvania named J&M Hatchery. The staff was professional and, perhaps most importantly, utterly confident in their product. The birds were $1 each, and shipping for the 100 birds we ordered was $65 giving us a starting cost for each bird of $1.65.
The shipping price is a little higher than other hatcheries because they purposely put fewer birds per shipping box. When I got the call at 5:00 a.m. from our post office telling me that several loud packages were waiting for us, I expected to find a couple chickens dead upon arrival. I was impressed when all 100 birds survived the long trip, and was even more impressed by their energy and stamina.
We separated the chicks into batches of 50 and started them in two stock tanks with heat lamps. We used shavings in the containers and gave the birds unlimited water and feed. We placed an old door over almost all of the oval stock tanks in the evenings, and were surprised, day after day with the 100% survival rate.
We kept the chicks in the tanks for a week, and only after moving them all to a sectioned off area in the barn and increasing the size of the waterers and feeders did we lose our first chick—to apparent drowning in the waterer.
Born to range
The Rangers grew in size at a healthy clip. At four weeks we placed them in chicken tractors that moved around the perimeter of our row crop fields, which cut down on our mowing. It also meant that we had to take the time to move the tractors once and sometimes twice a day.
After about four weeks in the tractors it became quite evident that the Rangers were meant to roam like antelope. They have a natural instinct to survive that the Cornish Cross seems to lack.
While the tractors’ confined area was wholly suitable for producing the Rangers from start to finish, they did seem to have a desire to run about and need more space. When we moved the tractors and one or two would escape they would run at full speed, flapping their wings, and actually take flight, relishing their ability to be free birds.
At eight weeks we moved the flock to a quarter acre section of grass and clover that we had raised layers on the year before, and they quickly demonstrated why they are worthy of their name. We used typical four foot field fencing with chicken wire around the bottom 18 inches of the fence line.
Once out of the tractors the Rangers seemed to gain weight much more quickly, and also develop a certain sense of assertiveness, especially if food was around, a “Live Free or Die” attitude attributable to the natural instinct retained in the methodical breeding program of their hatchery.
Feed me, Seymour!
Like the Cornish Cross, the Rangers get extremely excited when food is present, but they are active enough that one doesn’t need to physically remove their food or place the food on the opposite side of the pen of the water to force the birds to move about a bit.
Our Rangers were fed organic feed that we purchased from New Seasons Farm out of Canada. We purchased 55 gallon drums of feed for just over $100 per barrel, and from start to finish we went through six drums.
Our Rangers grain-based feed was strongly complimented by what the birds could forage on their own and healthy doses of leafy vegetables—what came back from market, what was left after field processing, etc.
They loved chard, beet tops, wilted lettuce and kale, summer squash (especially if broken), and soft cucumbers, tomatoes, and fruit.
Like any livestock, the Rangers definitely benefitted from appropriate attention. During the hot summer months they would drink more water than expected, and they preferred to have access to food in rations rather than in one lump sum.
They need space, or if in a tractor, they need to be moved frequently. They are more active than other broilers we have seen. Again, we are no livestock experts, but between moving the tractors, checking, refilling feed and water we probably spent 30 minutes per day looking after the birds.
In the end, our 97 remaining Freedom Rangers took about twelve weeks from arrival to abbatoir and, on the one and only bad day they endured, each of our birds was vibrant, strong, and impressively robust.
We had them processed at a certified facility, and both of the gentlemen who did the slaughtering commented on their strong, fullbodied appearance and demeanor (and these dudes have seen a couple chickens in their days).
The chickens averaged about 4.75lbs each. The going retail rate for certified organic whole chickens at the Seattle area markets we attend is between $5.49-5.99/lb this fall.
Here’s how our Rangers performed:
4.75lbs x $5.49/lb = $26.08
$26.08 x 97 chickens = $2,530+
Birds & shipping $165-
Marketing fee of 7% $177-
Labor costs for care $400-
Net profit $788+
Our best estimate is a net of approximately $788 on a $1742 expenditure, which is not too shabby a margin for farming; it sure beats the return on radishes and hand-weeded corn!
The Rangers fit perfectly into our mixed row crop farm, often turning what would otherwise be compost into delicious chicken. With a decent return, easy care, and a robust nature, it’s hard to name what’s not to like about Freedom Ranger chickens.
Label Rouge: www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/labelrouge.pdf; www.poultrylabelrouge.com
Tags: Care, Chicken Tractor, Cornish Cross, Freedom Rangers, Hatchery, Poultry