Everyone raises cornish cross chickens for meat. Even the big organic pastured poultry guys: Salatin, Rhodes, and our friends in Hutch. For mostly good reason- they are made to convert feed into meat the most quickly and efficiently.
So why do we raise freedom rangers?
Roll the calendar back four years, and we were busy processing our first batch of fryers of the year while drifts of snow still dotted the perpetually shady areas of our yard. Early summertime activities have always revolved around wheat harvest, and past years had seen harvest begin as early as the last days of May. Raising Cornish Cross in the middle of the summer heat was a recipe for disaster – a lesson we had learned from years past. Needing eight weeks to grow, and wanting to run two batches of birds before we got the harvest call, we found ourselves getting our first shipment of cornish cross chicks before mid-March.
As we sent our birds to pasture in April, they found nothing but dead and dry grass and weeds and the chilly days saw none of their favorite insects buzzing about their pasture pens. We dutifully moved their pens daily up until the first weekend of May, one week before they had a date with my sharpened steel blade. By this time things had finally greened up, and the birds had grown out beautifully in the cool weather, however, the forecast looked grim… The blizzard struck hard. Feet of heavy wet snow buried our pens causing the roofs to buckle and one roof to eventually collapse. We got lucky, only one bird happened to be under the middle of the collapsed pen- the rest safe and snug in the corners.
Our two processing dates came and passed in May, and our freezers were full. Now bird free in the heat of summer, the grasshoppers descended upon our acreage. It was a plague of biblical proportions. They stripped everything bare. All of our beautiful garden crops were entirely decimated, and there was little we could do to stop them as they laid all of their eggs into our loose but now bare garden soil preparing their offspring to feast on the next year’s bounty. All the while I kept contemplating what I would give to have a few hundred range-happy (which is not in the Cornish vocabulary) birds out there gobbling up and getting fat on all of those free protein-packed little treats.
It was then that I recalled how in the mid-summer heat of our very first year we had raised a few Freedom Rangers, and while our Cornish birds dropped by the dozens, they thrived and grew larger and meatier than any bird we have raised since. It was our Aha moment, why not turn our grasshopper curse into a blessing? SO…we have been raising Freedom Rangers each summer, right through the heat of summer, every year since, and (we think) they taste better anyway;).