More About My Meat Chickens

 

Freedom Ranger  chickens were developed in the early 1960s to meet the high standards of the French “Label Rougue” Free Range program. They occupy a middle ground between the fast-growing White Broiler commercial-production bird and the slow-growing heritage breeds. Freedom Rangers reach their peak weight of 5-6 lbs in 12-14 weeks. I purchase day-old certified GMO-free chicks from the Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Lancaster County, PA.

Freedom Rangers feature either red or tri-colored feathers and have yellow shanks, skin and beaks. These active, robust chicks are suitable for free range, foraging, and pasture environments and produce tender, succulent meat with more yellow omega-3 fat and less saturated fat than fast growing breeds. I raise them in chicken tractors that I move around my property. They are an active breed and thrive when allowed to range, scratch, and dust-bathe in natural sunlight. They are improved by exercise and access to natural sources of protein, vegetation, and minerals; I also provide free access to supplemental GMO-free organic feed from Green Mountain Feeds of Bethel, VT.

By contrast, commercial White Broilers reach butcher weight in just 8 weeks. They grow meat so quickly that their skeletal structure and internal organs often have trouble keeping up. As a result, White Broilers are subject to organ failure, broken leg (and other) bones, and premature death. Also, commercial growers provide feed rich in corn, which adds harmful omega-6 fat and tends to make the birds lethargic. They generally do not forage, or even get much exercise, preferring to sit as close to their precisely-calibrated food and water supply as they can manage.

Large breasts (white meat) and short weeks to maturity are the primary reasons the Broiler was created. It fits a commercial agenda regardless of the effect on the flavor and inherent nutritional value of the meat. However, the rapid weight gain and short time to maturity assures a quick turn-over, which allows commercial scale chicken farmers to realize more profit on lower per-pound prices.

As with the vegetables I grow, I prefer to take the longer view in order to enjoy a better quality, more nutritious, and more nature-aligned product. Most consumers of high-quality, pasture-raised chicken meat discover that less is more. That is, it takes less meat to satisfy. That’s because the good omega-3 fatty acids and more protein-dense meat of pasture raised, slower growing chickens cause our bodies to reach satiation faster and on less food. The result is that the higher per-pound price of a slow-grown, pasture-raised chicken is often offset by the smaller quantity of meat consumed in a sitting. (This is true for vegetables, as well.) We have found that the more consistently we eat good quality food, the less of it we eat, and so (once we got through an initial adjustment period of about 3 months) our food budget has not increased even though our high-quality food is more costly on a per unit basis.

 

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