Here in the Philippines, when we talk about broiler chicken, people automatically think about the 45-day Cornish cross: the white broiler from Cobb. Most Filipinos don’t realize that there are also colored broilers like Sasso, Kabir, etc and this is the main reason why people ask, “Can you free-range meat chicken?”.
Farmers have been free-ranging broiler chickens regardless of breed and color for many years and there are different reasons why.
The main reason why large commercial growers are raising the white broilers inside massive buildings is to maximize production in limited space and to grow them faster. Putting white broilers into confinement has some advantages and disadvantages and for commercial growers, it’s advantageous because they can feed the birds 24/7 to expedite their growth. The same can’t be done when the birds are in free range because they have to rest at night due to the absence of light. This, however, can slow their growth.
Growers that are racing to harvest do not free-range. Only small farmers do the free-range, especially those who cannot afford expensive housing. take note that although house broilers grow faster, they also require much care and more feed.
Free-range broilers, especially colored ones, are usually more expensive than those that are housed.
The Pamora Farm, for example, is one if not the biggest free-range farms in the country and sells its products at a premium price. This is because free-range chicken takes at least 3.5 months to reach the slaughter age which requires more feed. On the other hand, these meat chickens also taste better than those white broilers that are harvested in just 35 to 40 days.
White broilers like the Cornish cross can be free-range but make sure they have enough feathers before you release them outside or else they will die in cold or extreme heat.
I used to free-range around 10 white broilers before and in fact, I was able to breed them. It is not, however, suggested if you have more than 100 heads and your purpose is to sell them for meat.
Free-range white broiler also tastes better than those confined because they eat different things like insects and they can have a variety of diets which can have a different effect on the taste of their meat when slaughtered.
If you want to raise 10 to 20 white broilers, there is no need to put them into confinement especially if you are not planning to slaughter them all at once. Free-range broilers taste like native chicken, especially after 2 months. If you don’t have any plan to breed them, however, it is not advisable to let them surpass the 2-month age as they will stop growing.
In the following video, Peter Larson of Just Few Acres Farm in New York confines his broiler but they are moved every now and then allowing the chickens to experience the outdoors.
Pastured chicken like this is no different than free-range chicken as the birds also eat leaves and insects.
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