Are you getting fed up with the shortages at the grocery store?
Have you been questioning the quality of the chicken you find there?
Are you looking for more ways to increase your self-sufficiency?
Then you’re in the right place. Raising your own broilers (or meat birds) is one of the best ways to solve all of these concerns!
If you already have a garden and raise chickens for eggs that is an excellent start, however, once you’re able to put meat on the table, you’ll be unstoppable.
This comprehensive article will answer all of your burning questions about raising broiler chickens, specifically red rangers. When we started raising them in 2016, there was minimal information out there on why and how to raise them. We’ve learned a lot since then and I’ll fill you in on everything I wish we would have known when we started!
Do you live in the city? Don’t worry! I have ideas for you, too!
What Is a Red Ranger Chicken?
It’s hard to tell you exactly what a red ranger chicken is because the genetics behind the breed are a highly protected secret in the hatchery business. In general, they are considered a meat bird, however, they don’t grow quite as scary-fast as the traditional cornish cross and thus, don’t carry as many risks.
They have red and black feathers, yellow legs and skin and typically finish out in 11-16 weeks.
We’ve been raising them since 2016 and I’ve been very impressed with them each year. They are hardy, fairly active and delicious!
What other types of broiler chickens are available?
This is the only breed that you’ll ever find in the grocery store, and even at many CSAs! Joel Salatin calls them “race car chickens” because they grow freaky fast and crash hard if anything in the slightest goes wrong. They are often raised in confinement so that the conditions can be tightly controlled. They can also be raised on pasture, with close monitoring.
The cornish cross breed is a hybrid between a plymouth rock and a cornish chicken, however the rest is a highly protected secret.
Cornish cross broilers are known for their large breasts and minimal feathering (easy to pluck). They are sedentary and reach a butchering weight of 6-8 pounds in just 6-8 weeks.
Cornish Game Hens
A cornish game hen is simply a cornish cross pullet (female) that is butchered at 3 weeks of age at a weight of only 2.5-3 pounds. Some people prefer a smaller bird, however, these are often raised as single-portion chickens for high-end restaurants.
Freedom Ranger & Rudd Ranger
The freedom ranger is a very similar chicken to the red ranger, except the freedom ranger is trademarked by Freedom Ranger Hatchery. A couple of years ago, Hoover’s Hatchery also changed their red ranger’s name to Rudd Rangers to trademark their own. It’s all marketing…
Royal Grey Broiler – NEW for 2022 at Hoover’s Hatcher
The royal grey broiler caught my interest this year, however, I was disappointed to see that they still finish out in only 9 weeks. This rate of growth is too fast in my opinion, which we will discuss more of below!
Dual Purpose Breeds
Dual purpose breeds are the best of both worlds: they can be kept for laying eggs, but also are large enough to be utilized as a meat chicken as well. This is the strategy that our ancestors used before the days of broiler hybrids and large hatcheries.
A good method is to buy straight-run chicks (meaning ~50% will be roosters and ~50% will be hens) with the purpose of butchering the roosters and raising the hens for eggs. Once the hens are too old to lay anymore, they are still a good size to be utilized as a stewing hen.
The negative of dual purpose breeds compared to conventional broilers is that they grow much slower (16-24 weeks) and have a less economical feed conversion (ability to turn feed into muscle). They are also leaner and tougher, due to their activity and older age. If you choose to butcher them earlier (in the “teenage” stage), definitely check out my How to Cook a Rooster tutorial with my bonus chicken wild rice soup recipe!
6 Reasons Why You Should Raise Red Ranger Chickens
#1 Self-sufficiency and control over the product
Self-sufficiency is king on the priority list! If you have a garden or a handful of chickens for eggs, that is amazing! However, once you are able to put meat on the table… then you’re really on your way to self-sufficiency.
Not only is chicken an amazing source of protein, vitamins A & D, B-vitamins, iron, zinc and copper, but you can also use the bones and feet for making bone broth, and render down the skin and fat for schmaltz. The organs are also packed full of nutrients! If you aren’t quite ready to cross over to eating organ meat yet, I’m sure one of your pets would gladly enjoy them.
Lastly, if you raise your own meat chickens, you have full control over how they were raised, what they ate, and how they were processed. The more I read about the commercial broiler industry, the more disgusted I get…
#2 Red ranger chickens are more nutritious than cornish cross
Ohhh where do I start!? I have so many thoughts on this topic. When we decided to start raising meat chickens, I read the book Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin and it was EYE OPENING. It’s an old book and a little disorganized, but there’s great information in there.
I used to believe that any chicken would produce a healthy and nutrient-dense meal as long as they are out on pasture… wrong!
Time on pasture
When raising broilers, you typically wait until they are at least 2 weeks old to move from the indoor brooder to the outdoors. That’s because when they are a few days old, they are delicate, learning the basics, and need a heat lamp to stay warm.
Because of this delay, they are already missing out on 2 weeks on pasture.
Therefore, if you’re raising the cornish cross broilers (which are butchered at 6-8 weeks), that means there’s only a few weeks left for them to obtain those vital nutrients from the grass, bugs, sunshine, etc. Basically, it doesn’t happen to the full extent that we are hoping for. A pasture-raised cornish cross is better than its conventionally-raised counterpart, but it’s still not what you think you’re getting.
The research behind it
There is research out there now that confirms what we’ve believed to be true: pasture-raised broilers have more vitamins D & E and a better omega 6:3 ratio (inflammatory vs anti-inflammatory fats) than broilers raised in confinement (solely on grain) (Ponte Study #1, APPPA Article, Ponte Study #2). I haven’t been able to find any studies comparing pasture-raised cornish cross to slower growing breeds like the red ranger to confirm my suspicions there. If you know of one, please let me know!
I have noticed that our red ranger hens (which usually take a few more weeks to reach finish weight compared to roosters) have a deeper hue of gold to their fat and their muscle is more richly colored compared to the roosters. It could be a gender thing? However, I really think it’s due to the few extra weeks outdoors.
#3 Red ranger chickens are healthier than cornish cross
If cornish cross broilers were allowed to continue to grow past 8 weeks, they would eventually die from leg or heart problems. They are eating machines. If you decide to raise them, you actually have to remove their feed at night. This keeps them from overeating and gaining weight so fast that they have a heart attack or their legs collapse from their massive weight.
Red rangers have a bit more sense and aren’t quite as feed-crazy. I’ve always left the feed out there 24/7 and they are able to self-moderate. I’ve never had a red ranger experience a heart attack or break their legs.
Red rangers also are driven to forage for bugs and greens more, meaning more nutrients are ultimately going to end up on your plate. They aren’t quite as apt to forage as your egg-laying breeds, but they still do a pretty good job.
Lastly, red rangers are much more proportional than cornish cross. Cornish cross chickens are bred to grow massive breasts to the point where they fall forward, where the red ranger chicken is evenly proportioned and has a good balance of breast, thigh and wing meat.
#4 Red ranger chickens are more economical than dual purpose breeds
Anytime you have a slower growing animal, they are going to eat more than their faster growing counterpart to reach the same weight. There’s no way around it. Red rangers are less-economical than cornish cross, however they are more economical than your standard dual-purpose breeds.
I’ve been tracking my costs for the last several years and I’m happy to share them with you!
- 2017: $460.65 ÷ 110.19 lbs (dressed) = $4.18/pound (22 red rangers and 650 lbs of feed)
- 2018: $570.35 ÷ 134.1 lbs (dressed) = $4.25/pound (24 red rangers and 650 lbs of feed)
- 2019: $433.49 ÷ 103 lbs (dressed) = $4.20/pound (21 red rangers and 494 lbs of feed)
- 2020: 2020… need I say anything more? We raised them, but I didn’t record anything.
- 2021: $400.87 ÷ 91.2 lbs (dressed) = $4.39/pound (20 red rangers and 515 lbs of feed)
- 2022: $391.01 ÷ 99.4 lbs (dressed) = $3.93/pound (21 red rangers and 625 lbs of feed)
As you can see, raising your own pastured, organic red ranger chickens saves some money, but not a ton. It is still an investment, especially if you’re a small homesteader like me and aren’t buying bulk feed with discounts. I wish I had my own data to compare against cornish cross and dual purpose breeds, but I don’t. If I do in the future, I’ll definitely add it here!
In general, though, expect costs to be less for cornish cross and more if you raise dual-purpose breeds.
#5 Red rangers are EASY to raise and care for!
Meat chickens are often raised in chicken tractors. Chicken tractors are simply a basic structure that you move daily so that they have fresh greens every day. This protects them from predators and provides basic shelter. No need for a fancy coop!
We built ours using the Salatin tractor design that we found in his Pastured Poultry Profits book, but we modified the size from 12’x12’ to 8’x8’ since we aren’t a large operation. When it’s not in use, we simply prop it up on its side behind our shop.
A fox moved into our area in 2022 and dug underneath our chicken tractor, taking ALL 23 of our red ranger chicks. We were devastated and needed a new game plan. Definitely check out my article How to Make a Predator Proof Chicken Tractor for all of my best tips!
No roosting bars
Yup! They are more than happy to just sleep on the soft grass. In fact, you don’t want any roosting bars because the pressure can create breast blisters in heavy breeds.
No laying boxes
These chickens aren’t going to reach full maturity, so no egg laying business to worry about. Easy peasy!
Minimal need for heat lamps
Unlike layer breeds that mature slower, red rangers are done with the heat lamp when they are 1-2 weeks old. After they are 3 days old, I start backing off on the heat until it’s gone entirely. Then, it’s to the outdoors they go. Super simple!
Outside at 2 weeks
If you’ve raised baby chicks before, then you know what kind of mess and mischief they can get into while in the brooder. I feel like as soon as I clean out their waterer, it’s already packed full of bedding within 5 minutes. The fact that red rangers only need 2 weeks of brooder time is such a plus in my book!
TIP for those that live in cold climates: Since we live in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, I always have my chicks delivered the first week of June. That way, by mid-June we should be done with the freezing cold temps allowing me to put the red rangers out at 2 weeks of age.
12-16 weeks really isn’t very long compared to other livestock! It’s a great way to fill your deep freeze in just a few months’ time. If you decide halfway through that raising red rangers isn’t for you, don’t worry. You’ll be done soon!
#6 They fertilize your lawn, naturally!
If you’ve heard that chicken poop makes good garden compost, you’re probably not surprised to hear that it makes amazing yard fertilizer, too! One of my favorite things to watch is that strip of grass turn dark green after the chicken tractor has passed by.
One key thing to note is that chicken poop is potent (especially when it’s fresh) and can easily burn your grass. I like to spray the area down after I move the chicken tractor daily to prevent this. Not a necessary step, but if you run the chickens close to your house like I do, it’s nice to keep the grass alive and nice looking.
Lastly, it’s recommended to only run the chickens over an area once per year, rather than coming back to it over and over. If you do this, then you’ll burn out the area with too much of a good thing, plus there’s less plant diversity if the chickens are heavily foraging an area multiple times.
Where can I buy red ranger chicks?
- Hoover’s Hatchery – This is where we’ve been buying ours the past 5 years!
- Freedom Ranger Hatchery – I’ve never used this hatchery, but it is popular.
- Murray McMurray Hatchery – We used them the first year, but prefer Hoover’s.
- Sometimes your local feed store or Tractor Supply will have them, too!
Can I breed my own red ranger chickens?
Since red rangers are a hybrid, they will not breed true. That means that even if you breed 2 red rangers together, you will not get an identical red ranger as a result. You’ll end up with a mix of results and some undesirable traits may come out. If you want to get into breeding your own meat birds, you’ll need to use a purebred dual purpose breed.
Should I buy red ranger roosters, pullets, or straight run?
This has been an ongoing question for me for years and I finally have it nailed down! It really comes down to you and your preferences.
Let’s get the lingo down first:
- Rooster: male chick
- Hen: female chick
- Straight Run: unsexed chick (so you’ll receive roughly 50% of each)
Ok, now how do you choose?
- If you are on a tight timeline and/or budget, I’d pick roosters. They are usually ready for butchering at 11-13 weeks for us, where the hens often take closer to 14-16 weeks. Because they finish faster, they consume less feed as well. You’ll notice my feed conversion in 2021 was my worst yet because we intentionally kept more hens.
- If your main concern is avoiding the fuss of crowing, the hormones and the overall stinkiness of roosters (yes, they stink), I’d go with hens. I’ve found that the roosters start crowing a solid month before they are ready to butcher. If you’re in the country, this isn’t a big deal… but, if you’re trying to sneak them into your urban homestead it might not fly.
- If this is your first year raising broilers, or if you don’t really have an agenda, I recommend straight run. The chicks are often cheaper when they are unsexed, plus having your chickens mature at different times is nice if you are just starting out. Butchering 5-6 chickens at a time is much more doable than all of a sudden needing to do 20.
How much space do they need?
If you’re running the traditional chicken tractor method like we do, we’ve found that 20-22 birds fit nicely in our modified 8’x8’ size. During the first 2 years, we followed the written guidelines to use 25 birds within our space. However, it was a bit too crowded in my opinion so now we do 20-22 and that feels right.
We move the chicken tractor once daily, minus a period of about 2 weeks where we move it twice daily. So, that’s roughly 100 moves with 6400 square feet covered for a round of 20-22 red ranger chickens in an 8×8’ tractor.
If you live in town and are only raising a few broilers, you could get away with much less space if you’re diligent about supplying them with freshly picked weeds and garden scraps.
What should I feed red ranger chickens?
This was a major question of mine when I got started and it was so hard to find any answers. There’s plenty of information out there on how to feed cornish cross chickens, but not much on red rangers. I actually had to reach out to our local CSA TC Farm when we first started and they graciously filled me in on what they do. I am so thankful for them!
What I’ve found works well for me is:
- 21-22% protein the first 2-3 weeks (I use Nature’s Grown Organics Broiler Start-N-Grow)
- Then, back off to 19-20% protein for the rest of the time (I use Nature’s Grown Organics Broiler Fine Finish)
This gives them a little boost during the intense growth early on, but then prevents them from growing too fast later. Again, there’s no need to remove the feed at night like for the cornish cross.
If you can’t find a high protein feed (21-22%), you can add fish meal to up the protein content. I’ve done this in previous years (before the feed above was available) by mixing a 50lb bag of chick starter (18-19% protein) with 2.5 lbs of fish meal.
Can I raise red ranger chickens in the city?
Technically, you need to stay within your chicken limit per your city’s ordinances (which is typically 3-6 chickens). However, I like to bend the rules a bit. Especially if we’re talking about broilers, which are only going to be around for a few months.
If you have cool neighbors who won’t call the city on you, absolutely go for it! Maybe even offer to have them over for a BBQ so they can benefit from you raising them, too! I’ve talked to several people who have raised them in their backyard, and butchered them in their garage successfully. You can do it, too!
Where can I find a farmer that raises red ranger chickens?
If you just aren’t quite ready to raise them yourself, but you appreciate the benefits of red rangers over cornish cross, there certainly are other farmers out there who can hook you up.
Our favorite Minnesota CSA is TC Farm and they offer both cornish cross and red rangers! If you don’t live in Minnesota, I’d encourage you to connect with your local CSAs and start asking questions. Farm Match is another helpful tool to track down a CSA if you don’t know where to start!
Ask what breeds they raise. If they don’t raise red rangers, there’s a good chance they’ll know someone who does.
Where can I learn more about raising red ranger chickens?
- Joel Salatin’s book Pastured Poultry Profits
- The Happy Chicken Coop: Red Ranger Chicken: The Complete Care Guide
- The Prairie Homestead: How to Butcher a Chicken
We’ve made it! Are you feeling ready to raise some red ranger chickens on your own? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
To be honest, it does take daily work and butchering day is certainly not my favorite, but I think taking responsibility for how your food is raised and treated is so important. It’s time that we, as a culture, shift away from consumerism and become a producer as much as we can.
There’s something special about that connection you have when you raise your own food – whether that’s garden produce, chicken eggs, honey, beef, pork, etc! We’ve lost touch with where our food comes from in our modern world, and I’m so proud of your willingness to reverse this!
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