Red Rangers: 7 Reasons We Won’t Raise Them Again
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Over the summer, our family decided to do a little experiment with two different kinds of meat birds: the Cornish Cross (which we generally raise) and Red Rangers. Spoiler alert—our family decided we were not huge fans of the Red Ranger bird and are choosing not to raise them again.
But Amy, why is that?
Well…pull up a hay bale and I’ll tell you.
Our experience with Red Rangers…
Before I start, I will point out that this is based on our experience. And I know from discussing Cornish Cross and Red Rangers on social media during our summer of raising them that there are people who are pretty hardcore—dare I say religiously—set against either Cornish Cross or Red Rangers.
Y’all, that’s not us. Our original reason for doing the Cornish Cross vs. Red Ranger experiment wasn’t to prove one was better than the other. You can read about our original reason, as well as a more detailed tally of meat and costs in my blog post Cornish Cross vs. Red Rangers: The Meat Bird Experiment.
If you experienced something different than we did in raising Cornish Cross, Red Rangers, or both, that’s fabulous! I know everyone would love to hear your experiences, and I invite you to respectfully share them in the comments of this blog post.
But again, this blog post is based on our opinion brought on by our experiences on our homestead during our experiment. If you’re considering meat birds for your homestead and you’d like even more of our opinions/experiences, check out my ebook Choosing the Best Meat Chicken for Your Homestead.
(Have I said it enough? Because I know how the internet works, and I know someone is going to make me repeat it in the comments.)
One more time—thisisbasedonourexperiences—the end and Amen.
Okay! Let’s get to it!
Reasons We Will Not Raise Red Rangers Again
Harder to butcher
We generally don’t butcher less than 50 birds at a time (a couple times a year). Our life and schedules do not allow us to be of the grab-a-couple-chickens-here-and-there-and-butcher variety. Butchering is an event for us, and we have a whole chicken butchering set up that we make use of.
In our experience, we found Red Rangers to be harder to butcher. They have more feathers and pinfeathers which—even with an automatic chicken plucker—slows down the process for us. We also found them harder to clean out internally (compared to the Cornish Cross birds).
Longer to grow out
We butchered our Red Rangers at 20 weeks (due to them being significantly smaller than we expected on our originally planned butcher date). Will everyone wait that long to butcher? No. Would we have had 4.5 pound birds at 12-14 weeks? I don’t know. Having said that, waiting that long to butcher did not give us a bird whose total amount of meat was worth the additional time and money we put into it.
Roosters are jerkfaces
I hesitate to point this out, because I hate to make a swooping, all-inclusive statement about one group of anything. But the roosters in our batch of Red Rangers were definitely more aggressive than other roosters we have on our farm.
I’m not new to raising chickens; we’ve had many different breeds of chickens over the many years that we’ve raised them. So I get that some roosters have attitude problems and some roosters are sweet as can be—even within the same breed. So take my Red Ranger roosters are jerkfaces comment with a grain of salt if you’d like. However, if the roosters in this batch of Red Rangers were an accurate representation of the breed, I’d have to go on record as saying I wasn’t impressed with their behavior—and neither were the hens.
If you butcher after egg production starts…
Waiting 20 weeks to butcher meant the Red Ranger hens were in egg production already—they started laying at about 16 weeks. Butchering a whole mess of meat bird hens who have eggs inside is…well, messy. Not that this can’t be done because clearly, if you’re raising for dual purpose, you’re going to encounter eggs in the butchering process. But it’s certainly something different to deal with if you’re used to butchering Cornish Cross before egg production is in full swing.
As a side note: seeing the eggs in various stages of development is always interesting. In the future, if you’ll be butchering a hen that you know is in egg production and you’ve not seen the egg tract before, take a couple minutes to check it out. It’s pretty neat.
Different body type
You’re not going to get the deep breast of a Cornish Cross in a Red Ranger. They are two different kinds of birds. And while Red Rangers are meatier than your average “dual purpose bird”, they’re not going to have the meat of a Cornish Cross. Red Rangers are also significantly fattier than a Cornish Cross. Some people like this. We were sorta meh about it.
Actually, to be honest, during butchering we did a lot of what the what? when we’d find large pockets of fat. I don’t remember ever finding an egg bird with that much fat on them.
But then, not to worry. The fat is where the flavor is, right?
The flavor of the Red Ranger was decent, but (in our opinion) not so stop-the-presses that it was worth waiting additional time and spending more money to feed them.
We prepared two Red Rangers on the grill—our preferred method of chicken preparation. The first Red Ranger was pretty chewy. The second Red Ranger was rather tasty. In a survey of family members around the table, the flavor of the Cornish Cross won out over either of the Red Rangers.
Side note: When talking to people about the flavor of a Red Ranger, you will find there are as many opinions on the taste and texture of a Red Ranger as there are people commenting. Isn’t it great that we can all choose what chicken we like best?
Now, if you’re all about that chicken skin…
If you’re a chicken skin person like me (always stealing the crispy chicken skin) this might be a deal breaker for you: Red Ranger chicken skin is tough. Really tough.
Gah. I really want someone to go to the comments and tell me this wasn’t their experience, because, dude—chicken skin should never be tough. Never.
Potentially good things about Red Rangers
Because I’m a fair person, I like to show both sides of our experiment. Here are the good things we found with the Red Rangers.
Red Rangers certainly lay eggs (although the number of eggs per year depends on who you ask), and they are definitely a meatier choice as far as dual purpose breeds go. So if you’re looking for a dual purpose bird, Red Rangers could be your ticket. Some people have said that Red Rangers can be duds at laying. Clearly, that was not our experience, but perhaps it depends on the batch.
I’m going to assume that the fact the Red Ranger is so fatty means a Red Ranger makes a really tasty chicken stock. However, I haven’t tried it yet, nor have I done a side-by-side Cornish Cross broth and Red Ranger broth comparison. Next time we cook up one of the Red Rangers, I’ll be sure to make some stock from the carcass. Chicken noodle soup, here I come. (And I’ll let you know how it tastes.)
Uniformity in size
When we butchered, the vast majority of our Red Rangers came in at 4 to 4.5 pounds (with one giant hulk at 7 lbs). Although our Cornish Cross ultimately gave us more meat, there was less uniformity in the size of the individual birds throughout the flock. Which means when raising a Red Ranger, there is less guessing about how much meat you’ll end up with on butchering day.
I’m glad that we did the Red Rangers and Cornish Cross experiment. It’s nice to have our own experience to make choices that work best for our particular set up and needs. Have you ever raised Red Rangers, Cornish Cross…or both? What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave them in the comments.
And for more details on our Cornish vs Rangers experience, check out my blog post: Cornish Cross vs. Red Rangers: The Meat Bird Experiment.
25 thoughts on “Red Rangers: 7 Reasons We Won’t Raise Them Again”
We did this same experiment this go round. I have 24 cornish cross and 16 red rangers. I have found that the rangers really will take longer to fill out as well as the cornish. We are having ours butchered this coming weekend, so it’s good to know what to expect. They will be 9 weeks. Now I know I will be dealing with less meat on the red rangers, but after this article, I’m now sure I don’t want to wait twice as long to butcher. Will only do the cornish cross next time around. Thank you for such an informative article!
So happy I came across this article! I loved reading about someone else’s experiences with these birds. We raised 50 cornish cross last year and 50 red rangers this year. We wanted to try both to see which we liked better. Many of my experiences were similar to yours. Our first impression of the cornish were they were so lazy and ugly with all their feathers worn off from sitting. The red rangers did indeed act more like chickens–walking around, looking for bugs, eating plants, etc–and weren’t quite so ugly.. However, they did have more feathers to pluck at butchering time., but it was not a huge issue for us with our plucker. The red rangers were a bit smaller, as we expected, but another factor was that we did straight run red rangers and all male cornish cross. So those red ranger hens were significantly smaller. I roasted two red rangers and did see lots of fat. There was lots of yellow fat in the chicken soup I made from the leftovers. I couldn’t taste a difference between red rangers and cornish cross but it had been a long time since I had cornish meat and so couldn’t compare side by side. My husband wants to do cornish cross next time. I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go, but after reading about your experience and seeing your cost summary (thank you so much, I did not keep track of anything!) I am leaning towards cornish cross. I have been wanting to try turkeys so I also enjoyed reading about your experiences with them.
It’s not so much that they are really lazy…but really they are energy efficient. The idea behind a more Cornish cross or a typical white broiler is that you really don’t want them to ranging about. Ranging will ultimately lead to a leaner bird. Obviously for them to go down because of leg issues isn’t good, but that’s why the feed/water should have some distance between them. Makes them move! Them laying about also isn’t going to wear those feathers off for the ugly comment… growing feathers takes away from growing meat. Those birds are generally bred knowingly with a slow feathering genetic. Look closer at them while they are growing out. That area on the sternum is supposed to be bald,. My 2 professional cents anyway!
I enjoyed both articles!
We raise Freedom Ranger chickens. We choose all males. We feed and free range them for 11-13 weeks and get mostly 5-7 lb birds after they are dressed out. Really big, tender and juicy breast meat. I’m not sure how hey compare to red rangers. I highly recommend them!
We raised freedom rangers exclusively for five years as broilers. We butchered at 10 weeks and consistently had 4 -6 pound birds. I think 20 weeks is far too old! That will be a tough old bird.. at ten weeks, big, juicy, tender, flavorful..
Maybe its a difference between freedom rangers and red rangers? The reds we butchered early were also tough. O-o
I have cornish cross and I don’t feed them. They only forage. They r 4 months old and r fully feathered. They walk, run and hang with their flock. I bought them with a boat load of ignorance. I have strong convictions about the treatment of our food sources. I would not knowingly buy the cornish again. I do have Jackie’s as well. My rooster loves my 16 year old daughter. She picks him up pets him and he will lay down next to her if she sits. We will be using the Jackie’s for our meat chickens. They forage like Champs and frankly we in the United States could stand to eat leaner meat. Just because we eat them doesn’t mean they get a lower quality of life.
Cornish Cross are the right bird for grain feeding and early butcher. Rangers are for field foraging: lean diet yields lean meat. This makes the Rangers far more economical to feed. If you don’t have to feed them, who cares how long they take. Just my two cents.
No matter the breed of bird one thing is proven universally true. The older the bird the tougher the meat if everything else is the same. Thus it does matter how long it takes. Also if a bird was not given any supplemental grain it would take very long time to produce enough meat and would be comparatively tougher. No difference to an old egg layer butchered past her laying prime. I guess its no issue if the only way you cook your chicken is pressure cooker in stock for a hours.
Thanks for this post! I was just offered free Red Rangers this morning and this post reminded me of why I didn’t want to raise them again. Hard to turn down 4 wo chicks for FREE though! My experience was similar to yours with the boys being jerks and the fat. I butchered at 11 weeks and 11 out of 12 of mine were roos. They were aggressive and in your face. They weighed about 4.5-6 lbs. at harvest. I wasn’t sure it was worth it but decided I was done with meat birds anyway.
Just FYI for others finding this post: Freedom Rangers are a trademarked breed. Their breeding facility is only a few miles from me in PA! Red Rangers are kind of a knock off breed of the Freedoms. This may be the reason that RR don’t do quite as well as the FRs.
I just wanted to send you a big “thank you,” for writing this article. I have always raised the Cornish Cross and recently debated going with more of a ranging meat bird. Thank you for your information, you’ve saved many of us time, money and irritation. Have a wonderful day and please continue to share your knowledge.
The freedom / red ranger is an excellent bird. Cornish cross sit in their feces in one spot and eat, while in a free range environment the Rangers graze. Rangers are not laying there eating gmo loaded chicken feed. You can buy that at the store. So time is money based on the logic in this article. That’s true, especially if you are a large scale farmer. If one raises 20-30 birds annually it’s not a wallet breaker especially if your birds have the genes to forage like Rangers, that will also save you $$$. We prefer the worm and grass fed birds that take a bit longer. All of the authors other boo hoos are just that – get over it you’re farming. The ranger at initial adult size is the superior bird and just as big if not bigger than the nasty flounder birds. Rangers are worth the wait if you can let them forage and don’t boo hoo at every bump in the road.
That is a seriously biased one sided statement.
So all CX must eat GMO feed interesting and completely false just a way to try and add emotional trash to facts and logic. I could easily say rangers and just yard birds that run around eating roundup and herbicidel laidened grasses.
Just and FYI on why CX have far less activity. Has anyone that’s makes those rather shallow statements thought of what the caloric cost of producing lean body mass at that rare on top of normal high rate of immaturity? Those CX are actually burning more calories than those birds running all over your yard you think are highly active. You do know of course it takes 20% more calories to metabolize protein than either fat or carbohydrates.
Fact those birds are not lazy as has been proven countless times when there feed is restricted. They are working as though running a race but its being directed to metabolizing that feed into lbm not fat storage which takes far less energy but actual muscle tissue.
Before making ignorant emotionally charged statement of fact please take the time to actually learn the facts, science, and basic reality..
Some people which is based on taste tests means most people do not like texture of birds that are raised that long. But I can only surmise they are all wrong and just need to learn to like it
You do understand that techically those birds with their higher saturated fat levels are less healthy to consume. That is the reason for meat birds is it not??? Consumption. Not his cute they look running around the yard being your definition of what a chicken should bJust an FYI we and many around us use our local grainier that produces NON GMO sSOY FREE Broiler& Starter Mix. They will customize for 10+ sack orders. They are on fresh orchard grass everyday after 15-16 days in the brooder. So please explain the evils of my horrible CX that I can raise ON PASTURE,GMO and SOY FREE, and even tech free range by industry definition? I can also raise then in 1/4 time for given processed meat lbs or can produce 4x in the same time period. They eat grass scratch it and cow manure for bugs.
The only differences is in meat texture fat level supplemental feed vs no feed and time to butch which has to be a min of 4x. Where your chickens run around just because band to find food as none is provided mine work (expend calories) just as hard if not harder producing muscle tissue for me to eat. Last time I checked watching chicken run never filled anyone’s belly.
No evil GMOs or lazy chi
As the birds we have were rescues rather than purposed birds, I can’t comment on weight at particular ages. But the part about the roosters is spot on. The rooster we acquired nearly blinded a child (first attack ever, left us in shock). He was aggressive without provocation, so much so I couldn’t get in the enclosure to feed or collect eggs from the hens. We ended up rehoming him and I’m pretty sure the hens thank us. Now, as for laying, my red ranger hen is my best and most reliable layer.
I love your posts! You’re so thorough with your observations, and I love your disclaimers to stave off the haters. You’ve given me food for thought. I’ve only raised Cornish crosses and have considered freedom rangers as something new to try.
I am new to meat birds and started with a few Cross. My friend gave me a Red Ranger roo and hen and they will be held for hatching eggs. My Roo is mating my RIRs at the moment and I’m looking forward to that mix. In spring, I’ll order more hens for egg production and when THOSE chicks hatch I’ll try them out on the table. Since this was my first year with either, I have no perspective on preference. So far, I have butchered 9 Cross and have eaten two and am very happy with this breed. I ordered 2 dozen more, but sold off 10 of them. I will continue to hold these birds in my bird count as they are easy to raise, butcher, and their demeanor is very sweet. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’ll be working on a comparison when I get the right stock in.
Just to get a different perspective: Many years ago I raised Cornish-Cross and swore never to do it again. Legs and feet were so deformed my family didn’t even want to eat them — called them Atomic Chickens ’cause we figured they were survivors from a nuclear blast. Ugly, sickly birds. I’ve steered clear of “meat birds” for many years because of them, but finally decided to give Red Rangers a try this past summer (2018). Wow! Was I amazed. Butchered the roosters at 10 weeks (7-8 pounds) and the hens at about 12 weeks (5-6 pounds). Free ranging these birds saved significant money starting at about 6 weeks old (more feathers meant they could stand cool temperatures better, a plus in Alaska). I’d say the weekly feed bill was reduced by half, at least! There were no deformities or leg problems, no casualties to heart attacks, and they acted like chickens. Yes, there were a few more feathers to pluck but for someone whose only looking to raise 20 or so birds this isn’t a problem, especially when I’m used to plucking a regular chicken. Didn’t notice an aggression problem with the roosters but I had mostly hens. Meat was delicious, nice and tender on both the roosters and hens. I did notice a bit of extra fat on the girls, which made great stock. I was thrilled with the Red Rangers and am ordering more for the coming summer.
Thank you for sharing your success! We are doing our first try with red rangers in two days and I’ve been getting nervous seeing that most people don’t like them as much as cornish cross. We are going to free range in a chicken tractor when they are big enough. We live in Wisconsin, and are having a colder than typical beginning to summer. What was the temperature by you when you put your birds out at 6 weeks? I know they are hardier than the cornish cross, but not sure how cold too cold would be? Any insight is appreciated!
As probably other people have mentioned, if you’re having problems like this with Cornish Cross it is not normal. Either you or the hatchery are doing something wrong. Also I’d like to point out to everyone Cornish Cross will forage, just not as much as other birds. They do not like to be in the sun. Given space to range they mostly will in the morning and evening.
I’m not here to defend any one group of birds. But this year I’ll raise 7500 freedom rangers/red rangers on pasture. Last year I did 3500, and I slaughter at 64 days. Not sure why all of you have had poor luck with them, but I sell 40% of whole birds into restaurants and they want a 4-4.5lb whole bird. That’s what I average out of my birds, and at times I’ll let them go a week longer to fill out the breasts a little more netting 2 bone in breasts at 1.75-2lbs. Superior flavor, thicker skin, 100X more flavor when raised on a nutrient dense forage and offered a grain ration as well.
I’m raising Red Rangers for the first time. Can you expand more on the feeding plan for your birds that give such good flavor? My day old chicks arrive today! I do want to keep a pair for trying to breed next year for future meat birds. Thank you!
We just butchered my husband’s first Red Rangers (20) at 10 weeks and they were fantastic! Moist, Tender, Juicy, with plenty of yellow fat and I thought they were pretty easy to clean after the Featherman got done removing all the feathers. Very little issues with pin feathers, just a few tail feathers kept hanging on so perhaps the stars were just aligned :-). Yes the girls are smaller and we kept the 5 hens to be layeres, because of that but the fellows dressed out from 6lbs 2 oz to a whopping 8lb 12oz and an average of 7lbs 2 oz overall! We grew them outside in a chicken tractor from 3 weeks and moved them across the pasture initially once a day then twice a day. The roosters were indeed more rambunctious and it was hilarious as they “learned” to crow but not for long before “Off with their heads” day came last week. Love reading the blog and posts, thank you!
Thanks for all the insights everybody. We were thinking of getting some Red Rangers next year. Our only experience is with Cornish crosses. Butchered at 8-10 weeks, 8+ pounds. We only buy about 7 for the year as we don’t eat much meat, but the stuff at the grocery creeps me out. So based on y’alls experience, we’ll just try a couple next year to see if they’re worth the trouble. Our crosses weigh in at 8+ pounds dressed, but they’re really nasty birds. The breast skin is kind of gross, and there’s just poop stuck to them everywhere. With as few as we get, I pluck by hand. Ick. But they’re quiet without much attitude. I get Gold Sex Links for layers, as it’s cold here most of the year, and we have to have hardy birds.
First off – most of my experience is with Freedom Rangers, not Red. Freedoms are the original alternative meat birds that have been raised in France for decades and were imported. The Reds appear to be a newer hybrid that Murray McMurray came up with to compete, and afaik they don’t share any genetics. I raised one batch of known Freedoms directly from hatchery, and bought another from the feed store that were labeled as Reds but have the same look and behavior as the Freedoms so I believe they were mislabeled. I bought a few Reds as adults from a different source that are clearly a different type, and I prefer the Freedoms. Your mileage may vary, and I encourage people to try both if they’re looking for a different style of meat bird from Cornish Cross.
All of that said – Rangers are NOT intended to be a direct replay for CC in the same management system. Of course commercial facilities would switch to them if they were more efficient that way. Rangers are intended to be more natural birds that (of course) are better at ranging and foraging than Cornish, which won’t unless forced. The ones I raised with my Rangers were no exception; they only moved if they were out of feed.
Something else very interesting in our experiment was that our Rangers apparently utilized the whole grain feed we use better than the CC. The CC were very slow growing and needed far more time than usual – I believe all of their “improvements” make them dependent on high octane commercial feed, while the Rangers performed very well on our alternative feed, as do our layers. I’ve since started fermenting it and I suspect they would grow out even better on it. They were decent butcher size by 11-12 weeks, and waiting until 20 would give hefty roasters.
However, you certainly won’t get the huge breasts like CC, because the latter have beg bred more and more that direction to follow market trends, like broad breasted turkeys. Rangers are a more proportionate bird with bigger wings and more dark meat, since they have to be able to move around without collapsing. I have no idea why yours has such high mortality – I can only guess that it’s the result of being confined, which they’re not intended for. My only loss was one that got itself hung up in the electric fence 🤦♀️
They are definitely a more alert bird, again in line with the way they’re meant to be raised, but I never found mine e to be flighty or aggressive. Quite the opposite in fact – the chicks climbed all over me, and one had a habit of sitting on my head on a regular basis. My goal was to start a long term breeding program with the intention of developing birds that bred true (currently on hold due to life circumstances), and the roosters get along just fine. The Red adult I bought had a minor interaction with an adult Freedom roo I had at the time but they settled down quickly, and cockerels I grew out in the same pen had no issues. That hasn’t been my experience with layer roosters; I only keep one of those at a time to prevent infighting.
Long story short, Rangers are for people looking to raise a more natural, healthier bird on a less intense system, vs the monstrosities that CC have become. If a fat, lazy bird that lives in a pen its whole life is what you prefer than stick with the Cornish, because that’s what they’re bred for.
I have had both and prefer the reds.
I breed them with my bramah or ciara and produce great chicks that lay well and have hearty breasts.
You are spot on though about the roosters. They are HUGE JERKS!