Freedom Ranger vs Cornish Cross {Broiler Chicken Comparison}



broiler chicken comparisonThere is a lot of debate in the land of “raise your own chickens” over which breed of chicken is best. It seems to generally come to down a Cornish Cross type of ultra fast growing breed, or a “ranger” line (Freedom, Red, Black, I’m sure there are more) that grows slightly slower but still fast enough and meaty enough to be considered a “broiler” chicken.

Cornish Cross chickens have the meaty chicken breasts we all know and love, but they’re hybridized (through normal breeding, not genetic modification) to grow very quickly. Sometimes they can grow so quickly that their legs physically cannot support their body weight, or they have health issues because their circulatory system just can’t keep up. The upside to their quick growth is a savings in feed costs- they turn the food they eat into meat, and they do it fast. They can reach slaughter weight in six to eight weeks.

Freedom Rangers, on the other hand, grow slightly slower than Cornish Cross and thus don’t experience the health problems. They still grow to slaughter weight in a very reasonable amount of time (11 weeks-ish), but are more hardy and are known to be better foragers.

Since we’ve now raised, slaughtered, and eaten a batch of each, I wanted to weigh in on this discussion with our personal experiences.

Cornish Cross

We’ve most recently raised Cornish Cross. We raised them on pasture in a coop surrounded by electric poultry netting. I tracked costs and it worked out to about $2.08/lb. Fifty birds finished out at 4- 6.5 lbs in 11.5 weeks and consumed 900 pounds of feed (a homemade ration that worked out to about 17.5% protein).

  1. Mortality. We lost a total of five either in shipping or as tiny chicks. That was the first time we’d experienced anything like that, and I can’t help but wonder if this had anything to do with the general non-hardiness Cornish Cross are known for.
  2. Health Issues. We had one chicken stop walking around week ten. We slaughtered it immediately and made a batch of chicken soup just in time for those of us on the front end of the flu. A week and a half later when we processed the remainder of the chickens, there were three with fluid in their body cavities. It was (we believe) ascites, aka waterbelly. Things like high altitude, cold weather, poor ventilation, and rapid growth have been said to result in ascites. We’re thinking the cold weather was an issue, because they lived in a well ventilated (but not drafty) coop and were fed a relatively low protein diet (although we gave them access to feed 24 hrs/day).
  3. Foraging. While they were not as interested in foraging as Freedom Rangers and egg laying chickens are, the Cornish X did indeed forage. Some more than others. But even the lazy ones were enjoying the sunshine when they were holed up by their feeder. There were also some that roosted and some that slept on the ground. Now that I think about it, the roost pole was probably a little too high for some of them.
  4. Personality. I mean, they’re chickens. Maybe I’m not as closely connected to my chickens as many who claim to not like the personality of Cornish Cross, but I liked them just fine.
  5. Meat. The Cornish Cross had meatier breasts and less fat on them than the Freedom Rangers did. Note though, the two flocks were fed different rations (although of course the Cornish will have meatier breasts no matter what they’re fed).

Freedom Rangers

We raised Freedom Rangers for our first batch of meat chickens back in 2013. They were housed in a mobile chicken tractor that, in hindsight, was semi-disastrous. We fed them a 15% protein feed the entire time, and they weighed 4-6.5+ lbs by processing at 11-12 weeks of age. Unfortunately I did not track the quantity of feed they ate, so I can’t give an accurate price estimate.

  • Mortality. We lost none. Except to predators when they were in the chicken tractor, but that was our fault, not a breed flaw.
  • Health Issues. We had one Freedom Ranger develop a breast blister, which we discovered upon processing.
  • Foraging. They were contained in the chicken tractor, so we couldn’t fully see their foraging capabilities, but they sure were super excited each day when we moved their pen. If we raise them in the future, I’m really looking forward to giving them the freedom of the electric netting.
  • Personality. Happy, normal chickens.
  • Meat. The Freedom Rangers had more fat on their bodies than the Cornish Cross, presumably due to the higher corn content and lower protein content in their feed ration (only 15% protein).

Discussion

You’ll note the Freedom Rangers grew to the same weight in the same amount of time as our Cornish Cross, even though theoretically the Cornish Cross should have been to slaughter weight a month or so before the Freedom Rangers. The Cornish Cross have more breast meat and less fat; the Freedom Rangers were fattier (probably due to the higher corn content in their feed) with leaner breasts.

We suspect the extremely cold weather may have impacted the Cornish Cross’ feed conversion.We raised them in November and December, and it was “really chilly,” to quote my three year old. It’s also likely that their genetic predisposition for fast growth is only realized when using an appropriately high protein feed (our 17.5% blend was lower than recommended for Cornish Cross).

So all in all, I’d say we liked Cornish Cross just fine. I am weirded out by the health issues, but I do believe they were possibly preventable and likely our fault.

I’m actually torn between which type of meat chickens to raise next.

  • Will we nix a fancy meat breed altogether and just create a large flock of dual purpose birds?
  • Will we give Cornish Cross another go and try to increase their protein and get them to slaughter weight a little faster?
  • Or will we go back to Freedom Rangers and let them really enjoy the pasture life now that we’ve switched from the chicken tractor to the poultry netting?

~Ashley

broiler chicken comparison

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Comments

  1. We have raised Cornish Cross a couple of times. I had never heard of the Freedom Ranger until now. Sounds like a great option.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Timely post as I have been looking at getting some chickens for our back yard to add to our pot and make use of free eggs but having been struggling with which chickens we should get.

    • Emma, one of the things I enjoy about the hatchery we order from (Murray McMurray) is you can search chickens that are “dual purpose” (good egg layers but also meaty enough to eat later) and then pick one of those, so you can easily get a decent amount of meat from them after they are finished laying. We ate some of our Rhode Island Reds as they got older and they were nice and meaty. I did slow cook them since they were several years old at that point. The broiler breeds that are bred for meat end up being to saughter weight before they start laying eggs. You can wait for them to lay eggs if you want, of course. But they just grow so fast.

  3. We have raised both, as well. We just really prefer the Freedom Rangers for all the reasons you mentioned. Honestly, I didn’t even like looking at the Cornish Cross birds. They were alien like to the rest of our flock. I’d rather perpetuate a different standard of chicken and go back to something a little closer to normal, than the over-plump big breasts you can find in the store, in my humble opinion. I love this comparison and appreciate you bringing the discussion up!

  4. That is interesting your Cornish did not grow very large. At about 8 weeks my males are ready to go at around 8-10lbs and I usually allow the females to go longer till 10-12 weeks, and they will dress out near the same. I can raise mine organically for About $2.lb as well. I try to teach mine from an early age to eat other things, they are definitely not smart chickens 🙂 They will eat comfrey and liver, which helps with over all health. I always give them some apple cider vinegar in their water when they are chicks, and adding a little garlic powder to their feed can be good for them too. We always lose one or two, and sometimes there will be one that gets injured and does not grow well. We have raised other meat birds as well, and there is just no comparison for efficiency/time ratio. Even Muscovy ducks that we raised with very little feed, take so many weeks to mature you spend more in the long run. I am still hoping someone will come out with a new cross, that is less yucko and more normal, but for now doing it with Cornish seems like the best option for the best price. They are also easier to pluck I would think. How did the Freedom Rangers pluck?

  5. we just slaughtered 24 Cornish crosses at 10 weeks. This was my first try at raising meat chickens. They were in an enclosed area of 30′ x 20′. Had a heat source and cover on part of the space. Lost 3 birds, 1 soon after purchase at Wilco, one about 3 weeks and one the day before slaughter – but our fault. They mostly weighed in between 7 & 9 pounds. We thought we were over feeding them – (20 %) started out keeping food in front of them all day then went to feeding them three times a day (17%) and making sure the got some exercise.
    Was going to try the Freddom Rangers but don’t like fatty chicken so might just stick with these.

    • Kristy, I think the Freedom Rangers had more fat on them because we had a very high corn content and a low protein content. So I’m pretty sure it was our fault. It was easy to trim off too.

  6. Great post and perfectly timed! We are still debating whether this is the spring for our first meat birds…no decision yet, but this breakdown helps with the debate!

  7. Camille says:

    It is very possible that I just didn’t see it but you said you fed them 900lbs of feed. How many birds did you have? 25? 50?

    I’m considering doing 25 of each all at once to see exactly how they compare… I was also thinking tractor until i saw your earlier post, now maybe netting is a better idea

    • Camille, that was for 50 Cornish Cross. Other people seem to have great luck with chicken tractors, so don’t let me deter you. But we had a heck of a time with it!

  8. Just found your site by searching #cornishcross on facebook. Thank you for sharing your experiences – it’s helpful to see what others are doing. Our first flock or run of 26 Cornish Cross is 4 weeks old. Organic, free range, I feed them unlimited feed for 12 hrs and then nothing for 12 and put ACV in their water. So far they seem healthy but I don’t much care for them and will try a dual-purpose next time. I guess my main issue is the very fact that man has messed with them to have meat sooner … like “fast food chicken” … it’s not natural so (in my personal logic) it’s not the best choice.

    No, I do not like their personalities as much as our layers (Barred Rock). They are not so active or curious and they are somewhat lazy. This makes me think of “stagnant”.

    But, even still I am really looking forward to organic, fresh meat and broth from animals I cared for myself … no regrets.

    I will be posting a blog post soon about our first gour weeks. 🙂 I look forward to seeing more of your blog!
    j

  9. We just processed our first Jumbo Cornish Cross this weekend. They were 10 weeks. We let them start free ranging a few hours a day at around 5-6 weeks old. At 8 weeks they were free ranging all day. We feed in the morning and in the evening to get them back into the run. We started with 6 and lost 3 the first 3 days, but the remaining 3 were hardy and healthy. They just grew so much faster than our other pullets. But they were our most friendly chickens we had, very sweet personalities. They DID go thru an ugly stage but by 10 weeks they were actually fully feathered and getting around great. We dipped them in scalding water and they defeathered very easily. We got some beautiful meat from them. I will definitely continue raising batches of these.

  10. John J Paugstat says:

    Just raised 50 Cornish X, straight run birds. Lost 3 due to various reasons. Fed 1000 lbs of feed over nine weeks. Averaged 6.5 lbs dressed (14 whole chickens, the rest quartered). Total cost per pound $1.45. Feed conversion rate (FRC) hard to figure as we also had 30 layer pullets eating from same food batch. Overall VERY happy with the results.

  11. Hi Ashley. Our farm will be selling some freedom rangers this coming year. I am wondering if I can have permission to use your photo of them on our flyer? Thank you for your consideration.

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