This last summer, we decided that it just wasn't fair for people in our community to not have the chance to buy homegrown, out on the pasture chicken. Why should their only option be flavorless chicken from the store? We already had plenty of experience raising chickens so we ordered 240 Freedom Ranger chicks. Our goal was to sell 200 of them and whatever was left, we would keep for our own freezer.
Freedom Rangers are made to be able to forage and be slightly smarter than a white Broiler meat bird. (A.k.a. as a Cornish Cross) The white Broilers are bred to be only meat birds just like the Freedom Ranger and both can't reproduce themselves because they are too heavy. They will die on their own if you don't harvest them within a few months because they will have heart attacks. The white Broilers also get so heavy that their legs can't support their big body. So they lay down a lot. They will also lay down next to the waterer and fall asleep with their head in the water and drown. The white Cornish cross Broiler will have less survival instincts than the Freedom Ranger meat chicken.
Freedom Rangers are one step up from being a white broiler chicken. Freedom Rangers are considered to be Broilers too, but with 1/2 a brain. They seem to know that they should go in the shade when the sun is beating down on them. They also know that they should drink water when they are thirsty. The meat from a Freedom Ranger is slightly more firm than a Cornish Cross Broiler and take longer to grow. A white Broiler raised on pasture will take 7-10 weeks and a Freedom Ranger will take about 12-15 weeks on pasture. I am just letting you know what the difference is between the breeds.
I have noticed that regardless of the breed of meat bird that we have; if they are raised outside where they can forage for fresh grass, weeds and bugs they seem to die less randomly than when we have kept them in a chicken run where they can't forage. And as long as you are raising chickens that were meant to be meat; they will taste amazing!
When we first got our chicks, we put them in a brooder house for 3 weeks. They are fragile and need time to grow some feathers and get stronger. The first couple day's we check on them 3 times a day. I can't stand when farm babies die when it was from something that I could have prevented. After the first few days they won't be so fragile and they only need to be checked on 2 times a day. That would be morning and late afternoon.
It is smart to plan your chicks to arrive so they can go outside within 3-4 weeks if you want them to go out on pasture. Also plan before you order them when you are going to harvest them. You don't want to find out that you have absolutely no time to harvest them. It does take a good amount of time depending on your set-up and how many birds you have to take care of. Sounds basic, but it is easy to not think through some of these details. Been there, done that!
We put the 3-4 week old chicks out in chicken tractors out in the field. Chicken tractors aren't real tractors, Silly! They are portable chicken pens with a roof on it. We wanted the chickens to be penned up at night in the chicken tractor, and also to be able to get out of the elements.
We also ordered two sets of electric poultry netting that were both 100 feet long from Premier 1. The poultry netting goes around the chicken tractors and contains the birds during the day when we let the chickens out of their chicken tractors. The chickens had plenty of room to forage while staying safe. The netting also keeps the predators from getting in. Hopefully, the predators get a nice enjoyable jolt. "Stay away from my chickens, you wily Coyotes!"
Make sure you think through how you are going to get water and feed out to your chickens when you are planning your set-up. We ran a very long water hose out to them with a shut off valve on the end of it, and we would put feed in buckets on a four wheeler. You could also use a wagon or a wheelbarrow.
Every morning, a few kids and I would go out and move the fencing, let the chickens out of the chicken tractors, move the chicken tractors, catch the escape artists that would escape as we were moving the fence and fill up feeders and waterers! Super fun! If you haven't raised some poultry yet, I think you should get some!
Every evening we would check waters and feeders and shoo all those birds into their chicken tractors. They just feel safer inside the chicken tractor for the night. They sleep better and I sleep better. The next day, we would do it all over again. There were day's that were a little harder to get some enthusiasm worked up for the care of these birds! We may have had some complaining kids. But it is exciting to see everybody start to work as a team. We got faster and each one knew how to do their job! It can take a while, but well worth it!
If you decide to do raise chickens for meat, I would recommend getting some help on Freezer Camp day. But if you have a 1/2 dozen kids that know how to work, you shouldn't have any trouble! You can also harvest them on 2 separate weekends to ease the load.
This week we just ordered 300 meat chicks that will come in the middle of April. I better enjoy my free-time while it lasts! Not sure how we are going to butcher that many birds, but where there is a will, there will be a way!
The best part about raising pasture chickens, is the way your pastures get revitalized and fertilized. When you run chickens on your pastures, especially after the cows have grazed it, the chickens will spread out the cow patties, clean up the fly larvae and grubs. Your pasture will look better then you have ever seen it before! This below picture is from the chickens being on the pasture a couple weeks before. Notice that dark green, thicker density grass where the chickens had been. If you look farther, you can see lighter green, anemic looking pasture grass that the chicken had not been on. Everywhere the chickens had been, the pasture looked amazing! Big difference. I hope to post an update when the snow melts to show you how good the chicken pastured area looks six months later, compared to the rest of the pasture.
Make sure you move them as soon as they have eaten down the grass, trampled everything and put on a nice layer of chicken poo! Oh yeah! Your chickens will fertilize your land for you at no cost! I am not counting all the work that goes into raising the chickens because you are raising the chickens to benefit you. Having lush green pastures as an end result of raising pastured chickens is the icing on the cake! I mean chicken. I mean barbecue sauce on the chicken. ummm..... you know what I mean!