What are the best free range meat birds?

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by mylilchix, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. mylilchix

    mylilchix Songster

    I saw the other thread on meat bird breeds, but I'm wondering which birds do best on forage. I'm looking for a fast growing, possibly heritage breed. I've been researching them, but could use some first hand experience advice. I've raised cornish rocks and then done very well. I did black broilers, but they seemed to grow slower up here at 8500ft. Any thoughts?

    Thanks, Sonja

  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Nothing grows as fast or converts feed as well as a CornishX.
    I doubt anything other than a hybrid will come close to the growth rate of a cornishXrock if that is your yardstick.
    In my opinion, freedom rangers, which I've raised a couple times and currently have a flock grow quickly with 22-24% protein and still forage well.
    Anything else will probably grow too slowly for you. But the flavor, due to being older will be better.
    New Hampshires, Delawares and Rocks are probably your best bet for a fast growing DP bird.
    Buckeyes and Javas are quite meaty but slower.
    Great foraging DP birds that also are known for flavor are Andalusians, Black Penedesencas, Sussex, RIR, Wellsummer, Orpington, Manx Rumpy, La Fleche, JG, Holland, Dorking, Dominique and Faverolle. The issue with these is you won't get the growth rate or perhaps carcass shape you're looking for.
    I've done half of those and had associates do the others.
    Another thing - slower growing/heritage/free range birds CANNOT be cooked the same. They must be cooked low and slow or will be tougher than the melt in your mouth meat of the Cornish Rock. The meat requires chewing.

    Edited for spelling
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2013
  3. mylilchix

    mylilchix Songster

    Thank you so much for the advice. I think what I was most disappointed in the black broilers was the fact that they weren't as meaty as I had hoped. I don't mind slower growth. I just want very meaty birds who forage well.
  4. Life is Good!

    Life is Good! Songster

    Apr 14, 2011
    suburbia Chicagoland
    If you're looking for "very meaty birds" - you've got to go with a CX.

    The FR's we grew last spring have a very different looking carcass than CX. While it's "meaty" I wouldn't describe it as "very meaty". There is a good quantity of white meat, but a bit more dark than white. The CX however is a lot more white meat.

    We grow Black Java's as layers. While they were the best meat bird of their day (1900), they have a significantly smaller carcass on the table. Meat, yes, but not like either the FR or the CX. I find their meat exceptionally tasty (thanks for the cockerals!) but use it for mixed meat/veggie meals - chx and dumpling, chx soup, chx pot pie, etc...as that tends to be a better use for their meat than trying to put it as a roast. It's a pitiful little roast! Java's also take a tremendously long time to grow out. They don't even begin laying until 26-28wks - but when they start, they won't stop (so it's 2 degrees in Chicago today and I got 3 eggs from 6 hens). I don't cull for traits until nearly 20wks if I can stand the cockerals - before then, they're just scrawny - even at 20wks, they're still pretty little on the white meat.

    Our CX and FR were decent foragers. Overall, the FR were better foragers than the CX. But it could have also been the weather/time of year. I have to reverse the experiment to learn more this year.

  5. barkinghills

    barkinghills Chirping

    Dec 17, 2011

    I raised my first-ever batch of meaties this past summer after having a laying flock for several years. I started out with 5 Red Rangers (Freedom Rangers) and 5 Cornish-Cross. I raised them together. The CC grew incredibly fast but did forage a some. Although they are very messy and require more clean-up, they were good-natured and easy to handle, even comical to watch, and friendly. But I did not feel bad about sending them off to process at 9 weeks and they came out absolutely delicious. The carcasses are meaty, full and very tender. I will definitely do CC's again.

    The Red Rangers were a disappointment. They were kept until 14 weeks and still the carcasses are not as full or meaty, they are more streamlined like a rubber chicken. I have not cooked one yet. They ate tons more feed in all the weeks they stayed beyond the CC's, and they still ended up under 5 lb. I also had one RR die of heatstroke, while the CC's did ok. The worst part about the RR's was they developed very aggressive temperaments beyond 7 weeks old. As in, they would start to honk angrily and run aggressively at us as soon as we came into their area. Not amusing at all. The roosters would try to attack me any chance they got. I grew to hate them toward the last few weeks. I won't raise RR's again nor can I recommend them.
  6. mylilchix

    mylilchix Songster

    So far the CRx have done best at altitude. I don't mind a slower growing bird, but I'd also like one with a nice carcass. Has anyone tried Delawares?
  7. LinaNate

    LinaNate Songster

    Sep 16, 2012
    Southern Illinois
    I'm wondering how much feed the cornish x needed over the rangers. Like they are ready sooner but do they require more daily feed?

    I looked after a fellow farmer's red rangers last year and we didn't mind the taste but felt they were on the smaller side considering how much feed they consumed. We raised them in a chicken tractor hoping they'd forage more at the end. They lived to about 24 weeks before I forced the farmer to send them to processor and they had very little quality feed at the end.

    I think I like the idea of a dual purpose bird that can free range that is meaty (and might take longer) over a plump bird that requires extra pounds of feed to fatten up quicker. I've got RIR's that I'm considering hatching out for meat. Do you think they'd be what I'm after?

  8. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Actually, while Cornish cross may eat a bit more on a daily basis, their weight gain per pound of feed input has no rival. That's the point of how they've been selected. A huge breast - relative to other chickens and with the best feed to gain ratio.
    Same as Leghorns and the egg hybrids that derived from them. The most egg output for feed input.
    Any breed of chicken, other than perhaps a Dark or White Cornish from whence they're derived, won't have the large breast of Cornish X.
  9. rainplace

    rainplace Interstellar Duck Academy

    In my experience, the problem with Delawares (we've done them) and other types of supposedly DP birds are where you get them from. Around here, the most I have seen are just layers, nothing of note in the meat department. Buying from hatcheries has yielded the same results for me. Unless you want to institute a breeding program, or can find someone who has been selecting for meat qualities, it will only be luck that gives you a heritage bird that yields the carcass you're wanting.

    Personally I prefer the taste of slow growing heritage breeds. I like the texture and the flavor, but when I first started putting them on the table, my family gave me the *** look.

    I don't like the work of the cornishX and we've done a few thousand of them. I decided to let my laziness dictate what I like to eat, which is birds free ranging and breeding.

  10. mylilchix

    mylilchix Songster

    I've started raising Delawares for egg purposes only. They've been really great layers for me. I'm still hunting for the perfect broiler. I don't mind they hanging around for a little while longer. I had a couple of Brahma roosters once that were around for at least 5 months, those were really meaty birds!

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