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The Freedom Ranger(TM) and why we chose it for our meat bird

Some of the reasons we like this breed are:

  • Produces tender, succulent meat
  • Does not have the health issues that the commonly used breeds do
  • Grows at a moderate rate, reaching peak weight of 5-6 lbs in 9 to 11 weeks, compared to the 4 to 6 weeks of the Jumbo Cornish used in standard commercial poultry operations and the 6 to 8 weeks of the Cornish X used in most pastured poultry farms
  • Active and robust breed for pastured environments
  • More yellow omega 3 fat and less saturated fat than fast-growing breeds

A brief history of the Freedom Ranger(TM):

The Freedom Ranger(TM) birds were derived from an American and European heritage breeds, and was developed in early 1960’s to meet the high standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program. This program, started by the French government in 1960, requires very specific slow-growing genetics that have been qualified through taste and other sensory evaluations to be significantly superior to other products in the marketplace. The program also has very specific growing and processing requirements that are much more stringent than any other program in the world. To learn more about the Label Rouge program the ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural  Areas) put out a document that goes into more detail.

Freedom Rangers (TM) on pasture at Sweet Gum Farm

Why we chose the Freedom Ranger(TM)

The large poultry operations who raise chickens in the indoor buildings by the hundreds of thousands use the Jumbo Cornish breed. Jumbo Cornish chickens have been bred to have a lot of breast meat–the meat many people want most–and little leg meat, as well as to grow as big as possible in as short as possible a time. This produces a bird that is sometimes referred to a “frankenchicken” for its disproportionate physique; in fact, it can become so top-heavy that its legs cannot support its weight. According to a scientific study published in 2003 on the Michigan State University web site,

It is also generally accepted that the main cause of leg problems is that modern broilers have been selectively bred (often referred to as “genetic selection”) to grow extremely quickly.   Today’s broilers reach their slaughter weight in around 41 days, which is twice as fast as around 30 years ago.   These accelerated growth rates have been achieved primarily by selective breeding, but also through the use of rich diets [high-calorie feed] and, until recently, growth-promoting antibiotics.  What grows quickly is the muscle (meat), but the supporting structure of legs, heart and lungs fail to keep pace with the rapid body growth, and can buckle under the strain of supporting the overgrown body. 

That is the kind of animal-used-as-food problems that we wanted to get away from so we looked at the breed used by most pastured poultry farmers: the Cornish Rock cross. These are a smaller version of the broiler chicken used by most commercial factories, still producing more breast meat in correlation with what the industry feels people want and still having the same health concerns of heart attacks in the birds. Frankly, once we had seen the breed in person, neither of us cared for it. The ones we saw were slow and inactive, choosing to sit by the feeders all day. They are the result of being bred for a lot of meat in as short a period of time as possible. We started looking for other broiler breeds to raise, looking for one that could live to adulthood naturally without having a heart attack if not butchered young and with a strong foraging instinct. We wanted chickens that acted like chickens.

After a lot of reading we found a breed that was developed in 1960 to meet the high standards of the French Label Rouge program. The Label Rouge program focuses on high-quality products, mainly meat, with poultry as the flagship product. It emphasizes quality attributes such as taste and food safety as well as free-range production practices. This breed was developed before American crops began being altered to allow commercial pesticide application on them and Europe does not allow GMO crops so this breed was raised separately from what is an American commercial industry standard. Further, we are able to choose to purchase chicks that are specifically from lineage that has not been fed GMO feed. Once we read that possibility, we knew we had found a breed we wanted to try: the Freedom Ranger(TM) breed, a slower-growing, more active breed than the Cornish. 

Then after raising our first batch of Freedom Rangers (TM) and, upon tasting the finished product, we were immediately hooked. This was definitely the breed we wanted to raise.  

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