Are you wondering which meat chicken breeds you should raise, Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger?
There is an increasing selection of meat chicken breeds available to the consumer these days, not to mention the option of raising larger, traditional, dual-purpose, laying hens. The two most popular choices right now are the white Cornish Cross and the Freedom Ranger Broiler.
The two breeds have some differences which may make one more suited to your homestead than the other. Let’s explore those contrasts so you can make the decision that works best for you!
Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger? Which Meat Chicken Breeds Should You Choose?
Cornish Cross Breed Characteristics
Average Time to Raise: 8 weeks
Average Weight at Harvest: 4 pounds
Cornish Cross are found with a few variations to their name but are generally a heavy bodied white chicken. Cornish chickens are bred with large breast meat in mind for consumers looking for low-fat protein.
They are typically inactive and if you’ve only raised laying hens in the past you may be surprised at how they really don’t behave very much like a chicken. They basically spend their lives eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating.
It’s a personality well-suited to bulking up quickly.
“These broiler chickens are known for their remarkable, rapid growth and feed efficiency. Whether you are looking to raise these top-selling meat birds for your own pleasure, or to raise and sell, you won’t find better.
Females will have a fine, smooth finish when dressed and reach beautiful roasting size. Buying straight run chicks gives you some of each sex so that you can take advantage of the strong points both ways. Males will dress from three to four pounds in six to eight weeks, and females will take about one and a half weeks longer to reach the same size.”Murray McMurray Hatchery
Benefits of Raising Cornish Cross Meat Chickens
Quicker to Raise
Many find that you can raise Cornish Cross to butcher weight more quickly than other breeds. They seem to get to the 4-6 pound finishing range within 2 months of age. Afterwards, their growth rate seems to slow down… if you want to risk raising them longer for a larger carcass.
Easier to Butcher
The internal organs in this breed are easier to remove and because they spend so much time laying down, feathers often don’t grow on their breast. This means there are fewer feather to remove at butchering time.
Unlike Ranger Broilers, Cornish Cross will not reach maturity before butchering so the roosters won’t crow or act aggressive towards the females.
Less Expensive to Raise
There is a higher demand for Cornish Cross chicks which lowers the cost of day-old chicks. Because they are also an inactive breed that reaches a finishing size more quickly, Cornish Cross have a higher feed conversion and are less expensive to raise.
Cons of Cornish Cross
If you are interested in maximizing the health benefits of pasture raised meat chickens, Cornish Cross may not be the breed you’re looking for. They rarely forage for bugs and greens, preferring to hang out around the feed trough and waterer.
For a variety of reasons, Cornish Cross are prone to have more health issues compared to other breeds. They are notorious for heart failure and broken legs, especially as they near maturity. They have also been known to experience rectal prolapse. Unfortunately, these types of health issues are experienced later in the birds short lives… which means the bulk of your investment in raising them has already been made.
Freedom Ranger Broiler Breed Characteristics
Average Time to Raise: 11 weeks
Average Weight at Harvest: 6 pounds
Freedom Rangers are also a hybrid chicken that fall under a variety of monickers. Generally you’ll find the term “Ranger” in the name though. They are a much more active, healthy bird and behave more like what you’d expect from a chicken. They will run around, chase bugs, pick at grass, and roost instead of parking themselves at the feed trough all day. Their leg bones are stronger to support their body weight and as a result you’ll find they have an increased yield of dark meat.
“Freedom Ranger chicks grow at a moderate rate, reaching their peak weight of 5-6 lbs in 9 to 11 weeks. 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.
Our Freedom Ranger chickens feature either red or tri-colored feathers and have yellow shanks, skin and beaks. They are an active breed and thrive when allowed to free range, scratch and dust bathe in natural sunlight.”Freedom Ranger Hatchery
Benefits of Raising Freedom Ranger Broilers
This is one of the greatest benefits of raising Ranger Broilers. When raised on pasture they will forage well, diversifying their diet and increasing the flavor and most likely nutrition of the meat through the addition of greens, bugs, and whatever else chickens love to find and eat while scratching around.
While Rangers do have a more varied diet, it is not a significant enough consumption to offset production feed costs to help you save money once you factor in the longer time to reach harvest weight.
Fewer Health Issues
Freedom Ranger Broilers typically do not experience the health problems that the Cornish breed is prone to suffer from. This is well worth noting since those health issues often occur after the majority of the investment has been made in the bird.
Higher Dark Meat Ratio
Because their legs are bred to be sturdier to support their heavy weight, they are larger and have a higher ratio of dark meat. Your preference for dark meat will determine if this is a pro or a con. I place it in the pro column because the moist flavorful dark meat is my favorite!
The flavor of Freedom Ranger meat is somewhat richer than Cornish Cross, especially the dark meat. You may find the meat to be juicier and the texture slightly more firm. (Which is not a hard feat to accomplish since Cornish Cross breast meat is almost sawdusty in texture. )
Because they don’t experience health issues, Freedom Rangers can live much longer than Cornish Cross. We have kept one alive and healthy for 3 years.
Can Lay Eggs
A Ranger hen can be kept for laying, but they are not highly productive. They lay a large pointy egg about 3 times a week for about 2 years.
It’s a shame that they are a hybrid cross because you can’t hatch out those eggs for continuous self-sufficient meat production. Chicks hatched from Ranger broilers won’t turn out with the same characteristics as their parents and may not make a great meat bird.
Cons of Freedom Rangers
Longer to Raise
The growth rate of the Ranger meat chicken breeds is slower than their Cornish counterpart. It seems the Cornish achieve the 4-6 pound target range more quickly before slowing off their growth rate. But Rangers seem to take the same length of time to reach a larger carcass weight (we prefer the 7 pound range). Both breeds get to that weight in about 14 weeks or so in our experience.
More Difficult to Butcher
The difference is really negligible and if you haven’t butchered Cornish you may never notice, but the internal organs in a Ranger are a little more trouble to remove. They are also more fully feathered than Cornish and therefore require more work at plucking time. If you have a plucker, this isn’t an issue at all.
If you take your chickens to a butcher to be processed, they may charge a higher fee per bird (usually less than a dollar each) in order to accommodate the additional work removing feathers.
More Expensive to Raise
Because of the longer time it takes to raise them, Rangers can be more expensive. This is a difficult variable to determine because it depends on many factors besides feed conversion, such as health issues.
Can Be Aggressive
Because they reach maturity more quickly, Rangers may become aggressive. This is usually only an issue if you raise a straight run flock. With all males, they will do the squeaky teenage chicken crow, but won’t run around and chase each other the way they do when the ladies are around. We have never once had them turn that aggression towards people, including our children.
We’ve been raising meat chickens for our family for over a decade now. We’ve experienced raising both meat chicken breeds many times and have done extensive comparisons of their health, hardiness, longevity, costs, and flavor. Ultimately the choice as to which breed to raise comes down to your needs, homestead set-up, size requirements, and flavor preference. Part of homesteading adventure is having fun and experimenting to discover which breed works best for you! So now that you know what to expect, try raising both breeds and learn which you prefer to raise on your homestead.
Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 15 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. She is the co-founder of the SmartSteader homestead management app and Executive Assistant for Homesteaders of America.
Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens.