Red Rangers:  A Successful Experiment

I still remember the day, coming home from Montessori school at age 11, begging my mom for a pet bird—a parakeet or a cockatoo, perhaps. I had just finished a big research project on birds with my best friend, and I had fallen in love with these modern-day dinosaurs.
With her physician’s coolness, Mom stated that no, there were not going to be pet birds in the house, “But if we ever move up to the farm, you can have chickens.”
Be careful what you say to 11-year-olds! Within a couple of years, we were up here at “the farm” for the summer, and chickens were in the offing. I had ordered 25 Cornish Rock broiler crosses from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. 27 fuzzy yellow peepers arrived, along with an exotic rooster chick. Our seasonal stay was bookended by school requirements, and having birds that would raise out in 8-12 weeks met our departure deadline.
Soon nearly all of the chickens had names (Sergeant, Rosie, Crooked Toe, Bert) and made their way into my sketchbook. That first butcher day was pretty rough, but we made it through. This was 1999, and I was in my early teens. We have raised Cornish Cross broilers each summer ever since, until it came to chick ordering season this spring.
If you’ve ever raised these white blobs pretending to be chickens, you know all about their fragile legs, their propensity for heart attacks, and their disgruntled opinion on having to move each morning with their daily chicken tractor pull. After a summer of especially dramatic storms and heavy losses, I was fed up with raising these meat birds. I was about ready to throw in the towel, when I decided to try an experiment.
I had been hearing from other farming friends about raising Red Rangers (or Freedom Rangers, which are a close variant). Developed by the French broiler industry due to the same frustrations I had experienced with the Cornish Cross, these did take a bit longer to raise but had superior pasturing and purported improved flavor. I had already transitioned to raising all female broilers on a restricted diet, so 12 to 14 weeks maturity schedule was already my current status. Would the Red Rangers hold up to their reputation? It was worth a try.
So, with a trial batch of 100 birds, this was my year to give those Red Rangers a chance. Even from their arrival, I could sense their vigor and heartiness. And now, as we are in the midst of the butchering season, I have to say that I am impressed with the results.
Now, if you want that basketball-shaped bird that is 90% breast meat, stay with the Cornish Cross. But if you are like me and favor the wings, legs, and thighs while still yielding a nice breast, these Rangers are dressing out quite nicely. Sandy, one of our long-term chicken purchasers was also quite curious how the experiment would turn out on her cutting board and dinner platter. Perhaps the hatchery had been slightly short on our order because they had thrown a couple of the standby Cornish Cross into the shipping box. We offered these to Sandy for her side-by-side comparisons, which she eagerly reported upon, complete with photos and a taste test review! The verdict? Thumbs up.
In the mornings, as I trundle through the pasture on my utility golf cart, filled with feed and water, I am no longer greeted just by bobbing red wattles and combs—no, with the Rangers, all the chickens are up and about, lining up at the front of the tractor, ready for the day’s pull forward. They also eat up all the grass and bugs they can find, utilizing the ground much more effectively than their previous counterparts.
Field mortality has been significantly less than with the Cornish Cross, as well as any leg troubles. And, who knew, but they even came out cleaner from the Whiz-Bang plucker Grandpa built us. Hey, as part of the pin feather team, I’ll take a cleaner pluck any day!
So, if you have also been frustrated with the traditional, white broiler chickens or are seeking a chicken for the table that has actually been able to have a real chicken lifestyle, seek out the Red Rangers and give them a try. I’m looking forward to cooking up a couple of the smaller ones in the Dutch oven over an open fire this week! See you down on the farm sometime.