Our Freedom Rangers meat chickens are now 8 weeks old and growing well and we thought we would do an update. They spent almost two weeks in the brooder and then went out onto grass inside our chicken tractor. It will be another 4 weeks before this straight run batch of 26 chickens get to butcher weight.
Observations about our Freedom Ranger meat chickens
Without question, these Freedom Ranger meat chickens forage more than the Cornish Cross we have raised in the past. We have watched as they tear up clover, grass and scratched for insects. I’ve thrown a few bugs in the tractor and watched as they ate them.
Although they do forage for additional things to eat, I don’t think they take in very much of their daily calories this way. They still spend the majority of their day at the feeder eating the chick grower. Considering these chickens are fed for an additional 4 weeks as compared to the Cornish cross, I am not convinced they will require less feed to get to butcher weight. We are documenting how much feed we use to feed them to butcher weight.
This fall, after the heat of summer has passed, we hope to bring some Cornish cross to butcher weight as a comparison. We will record how much feed we give them and compare it to our results from the Freedom Rangers.
Our second batch of Freedom Rangers
At the 6 week mark of our first batch of these Freedom Ranger meat chicks we ordered another 25 chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery. For this order we elected to get all cockerels for the same price as straight run. We received 27 chicks with our second order and lost a single chick on their second day in the brooder. The remaining 26 are healthy and growing well. They will be moved to a second John Suscovich style stress-free chicken tractor next week.
After watching several videos on YouTube I noticed folks having to duck their heads to get in or out of the chicken tractor. As a tall guy who is forever bashing my forehead into things, I decided I’d build it a little taller. We went and looked what widths the wire we needed that was available in our area. After looking in 4 different stores we found it was available in 24 and 36 inch widths. Ultimately, we decided to built our chicken tractor 1 foot taller.
From the parts list in John’s book, parts A, B, I and K were cut 1 foot longer. Parts A and B are what give the sides their height. In the picture below, parts A are the 2 vertical boards in the middle below the tarp. Parts B are the two, one on each end.
Other slight modifications to the Chicken Tractor
Because we are raising Freedom Rangers, we decided to add a roosting bar to our John Suscovich chicken tractor. A 2×4 was used to provide them a place to roost. You can see it, and one of the two addition pieces of lumber we used in this photo.
Closet shelf and rod bracket
In the picture above you can see our yellow bucket automatic waterer hanging from a closet shelf and rod bracket. We use it, and 18 inch length of chain to suspend our bucket waterer. It uses the automatic water nipples to provide clean water to our chickens. You will notice in the picture below that the chain links fit over the rod hook. Raising the bucket height a link at a time is easy.
Adding a door closure
The first week our John Suscovich chicken tractor was in use there was a small incident when the front of the tractor was pointed downhill. while inside to top off the feeder several chicks escaped out the door that swung open with the aid of gravity. By adding a simple door closure spring no more chicks escape while we are inside the tractor.
A long tarp to cut down on the wind
Our first batch of meat chickens were going to be in the tractor while it was still pretty cool and windy at night. Because of the wind, we elected to get a tarp that would go all the way to the ground on both sides. During the summer we will roll the sides up to give them plenty of breeze. (See picture at the top of this entry) We went with a 12 with the extra length used to partially cover the back end of the tractor.
This year instead of raising Cornish cross for meat we decided to try the Freedom Ranger meat chicks. Our first order of 25 chicks arrived yesterday from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania. They all survived the journey and appear to be in good health. They’re on the back porch in our custom built brooder.
In only a few minutes after being moved into the brooder they were using the chicken nipple waterer to get their first drink. It took them about an hour before they started eating.
Why the Freedom Ranger meat chicks?
We have raised and butchered lots of the Cornish cross meat chicks over the years. They’re a great bird and grow to butcher size quickly. They don’t do much foraging and rely entirely on the chick grower we provide.
I’ve read and seen videos claiming that chicken breeds like these Freedom Rangers have a better feed conversion rate and are great foragers. When provided with fresh grass each day with the aide of a chicken tractor they should hunt for insects and browse in the grass. I’d like to see for myself how they do in a chicken tractor.
Freedom Rangers in a chicken tractor
When these Freedom Rangers are ready to be moved out of the brooder, they will go into a modified John Suscovich stress free chicken tractor. Ours is being built one foot taller than the plans indicate in the book. I’m making it a little taller to help avoid smashing my forehead.
The chicks will be moved to a fresh patch of grass in the yard at least once a day. As the get larger they will possibly be moved twice a day as they eat all the grass. It is our hope that by supplementing their diet with grass and insects that the amount of grower they consume will drop. We hope that the supplemented diet in our chicken tractor will reduce our cost.
Tracking cost of raising Freedom Ranger meat chicks
To track our total cost of the butchered chickens we are using a simple spreadsheet to keep a running tally of our costs. We do our own butchering, we will not have that added cost. The only cost I am not going to track will be electricity for the heat lamps and for the rural water. Both are relatively inexpensive when compared to feed and won’t great affect our final cost. We are more interested in the food cost for rearing these chicks. That is why we ultimately decided to not bother tracking electricity usage or total gallons of water.
Eventually we will raise another batch of Cornish cross broilers to have something to compare to these Freedom Ranger meat chicks. To be perfectly honest, I like the idea of the chickens diet being comprised of grass and insects. If they forage well there is a possibility that we stick with the Rangers. Time will tell.