Free-Ranging and tenderness

Oakrun Acres

Hatching
Mar 12, 2018
4
0
9
Does Free-ranging affect the tenderness of the meat or is age more likely to affect it?

We are raising Chanteclers- a dual purpose Heritage breed and we have some older birds that are no longer laying and wondered if they would only be suitable for soup because of their "toughness" from age and unrestricted movement.
We are also planning to raise some chicks for meat only - at what age would they be suitable for processing? Does free-ranging them affect their tenderness if processed under 20 weeks?
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
11 Years
Nov 12, 2009
9,282
12,467
636
western South Dakota
Yes, free ranging will make them tougher. If you want tender chicken, you really need go to a meat bird that is ready in 7-8 weeks, both young and tender.

The farther they walk, the tougher the meat. Old birds really need to slow cooked, hence stewing hens.

Mrs K
 

Folly's place

Enabler
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
23,558
39,562
1,106
southern Michigan
Welcome! I have white Chanties, and love them! My flock is small, so the cockerels stay for a while, to select a 'keeper' if possible. The birds that were processed at about sixteen weeks were delicious, but no bird will be as 'mushy' and tasteless as an eight week old Cornishx, if it's twice as old, and actually exercises. We are used to those birds from the grocery store, not heritage birds, much less mature hens. Crockpot! Soup stock!
Sorry, off the soapbox now.
Mary
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,854
21,999
907
Southeast Louisiana
It would be interesting to know if anyone had actually done a comparison, take half a batch and treat them the same as much as you could. The same breed from the same hatch from the same flock, butcher at the same age, the same sex, feed them as similar as you can consider one free ranges and one doesn't, just try to keep everything you can the same except one group free ranges and the other does not. Cook them the same way. Brine or age them the same. Do enough samples so the average means something. Different individuals mature at different rates, especially males and their hormones, and that can make a lot of difference in texture and flavor even at the same age.

I have not done this at all so I can't speak from experience, though I have butchered a lot of cockerels and pullets, hens and roosters. I will give an opinion. If you can keep all other things even I think you will find in birds under 20 weeks that the texture of the meat is probably 95% and probably more due to age and less than 5% due to whether they free range or are kept confined. If you butcher one batch and find they area bit tougher than you want try butchering the next batch a few days younger.

The French have a recipe, Coq au Vin or Cock and Wine, that turns an old tough stringy rooster into a gourmet meal. A rooster a few years ole will be tougher and stringier than your hens. Your hens can certainly be cooked. The methods will 100% be determined by age whether they free range or not, any difference in free range versus confined will be negligible. I've never pressure cooked older birds but people I trust on here say the results are great. Those hens will be great in a crock pot, soup, or stew but the secrets are to use lots of liquid and cook them very slowly for a long time. A slight simmer is great but a roiling boil will cause them to be tough. Be slow and gentle. And expect those hens to have a log more fat than males of any age. For reasons related to laying eggs and potentially going broody whether they ever do or not, hens store a lot more fat than males. I generally cook the hen first so I can de-fat the liquid when making soup, then cook the veggies in that broth. The cooked meat gets added later.
 

Morrigan

Free Ranging
7 Years
Apr 9, 2014
3,046
12,154
692
N. California
I agree with Ridgerunner that age and breed are much bigger variable then free-ranging. I've found that active, heritage roosters were still tender enough to cook by frying at 12 to 15 weeks. I also free range my cornish cross and some of them are fairly active, and the meat is still very tender at 12 weeks of age. For birds older than one year, I use the slow cooker and make soup.

The other thing to remember is to let the butchered chicken rest for 2 to 3 days before cooking or freezing it. Even the youngest, most tender chicken will be tough if not rested.
 

Mosey2003

Crowing
5 Years
Apr 13, 2016
3,098
5,041
411
North-Central IL
Dual Purpose is just not going to taste the same as Cornish Cross, regardless. If you butchered them super young, they might be close to as tender, but there would be SO little meat, it wouldn't be worth it unless you only wanted stock. It makes sense that the more active a bird is, the tougher the meat will be. I plan to do mine around 16 weeks.
 

Northern.Ontario

Songster
Mar 16, 2018
351
302
138
Does Free-ranging affect the tenderness of the meat or is age more likely to affect it?

We are raising Chanteclers- a dual purpose Heritage breed and we have some older birds that are no longer laying and wondered if they would only be suitable for soup because of their "toughness" from age and unrestricted movement.
We are also planning to raise some chicks for meat only - at what age would they be suitable for processing? Does free-ranging them affect their tenderness if processed under 20 weeks?
I would expect a little exercise would firm up the meat and maybe reduce the fat content (from a Cornish cross perspective). The older birds are going to be super tough and probably only suitable for soup, stew and stock.
 

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