Can you free range meat birds?

HillCountryMomma

Songster
11 Years
Mar 16, 2008
131
1
131
Meat birds are a whole new area of intrest for me, so if I'm asking all the typical 'trying to reinvent the wheel' sort of questions let me just apologize right now!

I have read through the forum some, but haven't found just what I'm looking for.

I guess my basic question is this: is there a breed of bird that I can free range with my layers (or pen separate and free range) that will work well as a meat bird? Something healthy enough to walk and forage, but still matures fairly quick to a nice butcher weight (not expecting broiler rates of growth, but don't want to have to wait 12+ months either). I just don't think I have the time to raise the Cornish X giant poop machines in a coop that must be cleaned all the time! I'd also like this to be cost effective... don't want to spend tons on feed. My laying hens are 100% free range and stay fat and healthy with almost no store bought feed (ok, ok... aside from what they beg and steal from the horses).

Am I hoping for too much?

Thanks,
Liz
 

silkiechicken

Staff PhD
Premium Feather Member
12 Years
13 Years
Jan 25, 2007
21,494
975
393
Everett WA/Corvallis OR
I think in the long run, for plain feed to meat ratio, (and tender birds) you can't beat the commercial meat birds. However, you can free range them if you like for the last two weeks if it is warm enough. I raise mine in a tractor.

Slower birds for meat include the freedom rangers which you can search for. I personally have not tried them though.

Birds raised for meat spend half their lives in the brooder anyways, so tractor style is what you'll have to do if you want them on the "ground" so to say. As for moving with your hens, they might be "too old" for any meat other than soups once they are old enough to not get beat up by the girls. And if they are old enough to travel with the girls, will for sure give the girls a bad time and bald backs from their attempts at maiting.
 

HillCountryMomma

Songster
11 Years
Mar 16, 2008
131
1
131
Thanks Silkiechicken,

It didn't occur to me until you mentioned it that they'll spend most of their lives needing to be contained in a brooder situation. That makes sense though. I did look at freedom rangers, and I'm liking the sound of 'em. Most of the chicken my family eats is in soup, from a boiled chicken, or out of the slow cooker. My kids and hubby aren't real keen on roasted chicken or turkey (which is a bummer, because I love it!). So I don't mind a bird that isn't store bought tender. Just needs to get tender after several hours in a pot or slow cooker!

Thanks for the thoughts. I'm pondering the brooder concept a lot now. I have a big 'coop' that used to be a storage shed. Probably 10 x15' at least. I'd like to raise about 10-15 birds at a time. Wonder how bad the poop cleaning duty would get with that many packed in there. Guess there's no tiem like the present for my 10 and 7 year old boys to learn to scoop poop!


Liz
 

greyfields

Crowing
12 Years
Mar 15, 2007
4,889
31
261
Washington State
You can certainly 'free range' them. But, they will not stray very far from the feeder (if Cornish Crosses). They also need predator protection. I also use a chicken tractor... then towards the end as they get bigger, I let them out of the tractor during the day into portable poultry netting.
 

willheveland

Songster
11 Years
Jan 29, 2008
946
17
174
southern tier,NY
I've noticed that they really don't like to forage like most chickens.I've never really seen them pick at grass,just sit in front of the feeders. Will
 

twigg

Cooped up
11 Years
Mar 2, 2008
1,389
11
171
Tulsa
Expect free-ranged meat birds to be leaner and not so .. er .. moist as store bought.

Treat them like pheasant when you cook them ... Slow roast or boil ... heavier sauce.

They taste great
 

jorgey

In the Brooder
11 Years
Mar 17, 2008
69
0
39
Utah
I am personally ok with a slower growing and leaner bird. The commercial ones and and even the cornish X's are most of the time way to fat for me. I end up trimming a lot of the excess fat off.

I'm raising some Delaware's mostly for meat, I plan to place them in a tractor and free range a little bit too (I'll also keep a few of them for eggs). I think that they will turn out great. The biggest thing for me is I know what they have been fed and how they have been taken care of.

I love slow roasting on a rotisserie for about 3 hours. Yum!
 

greyfields

Crowing
12 Years
Mar 15, 2007
4,889
31
261
Washington State
"Moist" is commercially fabricated by 'marinating' chicken in salt water prior to packaging. You pay for a lot of water which was added into the bird.

The tender vs tough thing is rather complex. Yes, birds with exercise and freedom to move about and display chicken behavior will develop muscles, which can seem stringier and possibly tougher. Birds in a factory farm, which cannot move, will appear tender.

But you tell me? Which is the real taste of chicken, the way nature intends? The only conclusion you can draw is that grocery store chicken is wet, too soft and generally insipid.
 

greyfields

Crowing
12 Years
Mar 15, 2007
4,889
31
261
Washington State
I have held back some Freedom Rangers with my flock and they are fine foragers. They'll be a year old soon and for all intents and purposes, they are just like any other chicken (just bigger and with a 'bad' FCR for a laying hen). So, I would say there are options for meat birds which will forage. Considering they were developed for the organic/free range labeling in the UK, I imagine you do save some money on feed since they have the instincts left in them to find at least partly their own meal.
 

jmschristiansen

In the Brooder
11 Years
Feb 28, 2008
21
0
22
Parker County, Texas
I ordered 30 Cornish X from Ideal, and they arrived about 5 weeks ago. I put them in a tractor after about 2 weeks, and took away the heat lamp at about 3. I prop the tractor up every morning, so they can run around the yard. They really like getting out. Mine forage fairly well, picking through the leaves, scratching in the grass.

Also, it lets them spread the poop around more, it is incredible how much they produce.

They are certainly different from the RIR's and BR's that I also have.
 

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