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Red ranger vs. Cornish Cross: the pros and cons of these popular meat chicken breeds.

WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING which meat chickens to raise, there are several options available. Broilers such as the Cornish Cross and the Red Ranger generally are the most popular as they efficiently and quickly convert their food to meat, while yielding a heavier dressed bird than heritage breeds. Both are hybrids. They are the offspring of two different breeds carefully selected for specific genetic characteristics, each with their own attributes depending on what the consumer needs based on their goals for their flock.


The Cornish Rock, or Cornish Cross (X) as they are commonly referred to, is the most popular meat chicken breed in the United States. Designed for large-scale poultry operations, the breed is known for its quick growth rate, and its ability to be raised in confined settings, making it popular among small farms and homesteaders alike.

The Cornish Cross is immediately recognizable with its sparse white feathers and exaggerated wide leg stance. These physical characteristics are a direct result of tailoring the breed for specific qualities and rapid growth. The limited feathering makes plucking easier when processing, while the widened leg stance allows them to compensate for their front-heavy stature. Creating an insatiable appetite to increase the broiler's growth rate, however, has its consequences. The breed is notorious for being genetically predisposed to health issues of the skeletal and cardiovascular systems. Internal systems struggle to keep up with the accelerated growth, making these birds prone to leg and heart issues.

Foraging, a behavior associated with most breeds, is not typically associated with Cornish Cross chickens. Birds that walk around looking for an alternate food source require more space and burn calories in the process. This requires more food to replace calories lost and slows the growth rate. The Cornish Cross chicken was designed for one purpose: to gain as much weight possible in the shortest period of time. It excels at this! No other breed can come close. Undesired characteristics, such as foraging, have been bred out. Cornish Cross is a bird that is content living a sedentary life. This does not mean that a Cornish Cross raised on pasture will not forage at all, it just won't make up a major portion of the diet. Based on my observations, they are moderately active when they are young and it is easier for them to get around. But, as they put on weight and struggle more to walk, they become much more sedentary and choose to lay in front of the feeder and eat in lieu of a foraged diet.

Overall, Cornish Cross chickens are typically processed between eight to 10 weeks of age and dress out between five to eight pounds. These numbers can vary depending on the protein content of their feed, the quantity of feed given, and the amount of space provided to roam. The Cornish Cross is also known for its distribution of meat. With a high consumer demand for boneless skinless chicken breast, greater emphasis is being placed on white meat. No other broiler on the market shares this quality, furthering its popularity.


Red Ranger chickens are becoming increasingly popular as an alternate option for people who want more natural looking and behaving meat chickens while maintaining a moderate growth rate. These birds are favored among those who raise free-range or pastured broilers because of their excellent foraging abilities and overall hardiness. The Red Ranger closely resembles some sex link breeds physically, with its red and brown feathers and thick yellow legs. Unlike the Cornish Cross, Red Ranger chickens are fully feathered which makes them more difficult to pluck. It does, however, make them more suited for outdoor living environments, as they are a hardy breed that can withstand extreme cold and heat, unlike their counterpart.

Many of the natural behaviors associated with chickens have been preserved within the Red Ranger breed. Most notably, they make excellent foragers, allowing people to save on feed costs. I give mine unlimited access to grass and grubs, which dramatically cuts down on the amount of commercial feed I have to buy. This does, however, slow their growth rate, as they are very active burning calories in search of food. Because I have a designated coop and pasture for them, I don't have a timeline that I am up against to have them processed. So to me, the amount of time that it takes them to grow to market weight isn't an issue like it may be to some. If this is a concern, limiting either their foraging space or time foraging is an alternative option to allow them to grow quicker.

The recommended earliest processing age for Red Ranger chickens is 11 weeks, yielding a smaller dressed weight of four to five pounds on average. Like the Cornish Cross, this greatly varies with the protein content of their feed, and more importantly, how much the birds are allowed to forage. Because they aren't predisposed to health issues, they can be kept well past the 11-week mark if you're looking for a larger roasting chicken. However, unlike the Cornish Cross, the distribution of meat throughout the Red Ranger's body is proportional to its legs, yielding a smaller breast size.

There are many pros and cons to raising both the Cornish Cross and Red Ranger breeds for meat, and the choice of breed is personal preference. For someone who is looking to raise a broiler with a lot of white meat, or who may have limited space available, the Cornish Cross is an ideal fit. However, if you have ample space and want to raise a more natural broiler with a highly foraged diet, then the Red Ranger is a great option. No breed, however, is without its shortcomings. No matter how much space you have to raise your own broiler chickens, or what your preference is, there are options available to fulfill your needs.

Caption: Day-old Cornish Cross Chicken (left) and Red Ranger Chicken (right)

Caption: Red Ranger foraging on ferns and other greens.

Caption: LEFT: Cornish Cross Chicken at Seven weeks.

Caption: BELOW: Red Ranger at seven weeks.

Caption: Cornish Cross and Red Ranger at four weeks old.

Caption: Cornish Cross and Red Ranger at six weeks old. Cornish is noticeably larger, mainly in the breast with widened leg stance to compensate.

                     Cornish Cross             Red Ranger

FEATHER COLOR        White, Sparse             Red-Brown, Fully
                     Feathering                Feathered

AVG. SLAUGHTER AGE   8-10 Weeks *              11-14 Weeks *

AVG. DRESS WEIGHT    5-8 Pounds *              4-5 Pounds *

HARDINESS            Not Weather Hardy         Heat and Cold Hardy

HEALTH               Prone to Health Issues:   Not Prone to Specific
                     Legs and Heart            Health Issues

FORAGING ABILITIES   Limited Foragers          Excellent Foragers

SPACE REQUIREMENT    Sedentary, Does Well      Active, Requires
                     With Limited Space        Space to Forage

Numbers are averages and can vary depending on environmental factors.
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Author:St Cyr, Kate
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Aug 18, 2017
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