Do you want to add meat birds to your homestead, but you don’t know what breed to choose? If you are looking for a broiler breed that will provide a large amount of meat in a short amount of time, then raising Cornish Cross chickens might be just right for you!
Raising Cornish Cross Chickens for Meat
Raising Cornish Cross chickens is a heavily debated topic among homesteaders. Some people LOVE raising this chicken breed and others swear to never have them on their homestead.
Let’s dig into the details of this broiler breed so you can decide for yourself if you want to raise this fast growing, heavy producing meat chicken breed for your family.
What Are Cornish Cross Chickens?
Cornish Cross chickens are a cross between the White Rock chicken and the Cornish chicken breeds. The Cornish Cross hybrids were developed for fast growth, high feed efficiency, and heavy meat production.
This meat bird breed is the most common breed used on industrial chicken farms. When you buy chicken breast meat at the grocery store, it most likely came from a Cornish Cross bird.
Many homesteaders also opt to raise Cornish Cross broilers because they grow quickly and one of these birds will go a long way in feeding the family.
Pros and Cons
As with any chicken breed, there are pros and cons to consider. The Cornish Cross is unlike most other breeds in many ways so take a deep dive into the benefits and challenges of this breed before making a decision.
Benefits of Raising Cornish Cross Chickens
Fast Growth Rate
Cornish Cross chickens are bred to reach mature weight in a very short amount of time. Within 8-10 weeks of hatching, you will have a bird ready for the table.
Large Amount of Meat
You can expect to get 5-8 pounds of chicken meat from each Cornish Cross bird that you process. The breasts are broad and will feed your family longer than the meat from a heritage or other slow-growing breed.
The meat is incredible and it looks great when it is filling your freezer.
Challenges of Raising Cornish Cross Chickens
Due to their rapid growth, Cornish Cross chickens face several health problems if they are allowed to keep growing past the 8-10 week mark.
Their top half can grow too large for their legs to hold. When their legs are holding too much weight, they can experience leg injuries, laziness, and the inability to outrun predators.
Another common problem is heart failure. The muscles of the bird tend to outgrow the internal organs and this can cause heart attacks and premature death.
These health issues can mostly be avoided by processing the birds by 10 weeks.
These birds cannot be bred back to each other to produce the same type of bird because they are a hybrid breed. You need the parent stock (White Plymouth Rock and Cornish) to produce more Cornish Cross chickens. Therefore, they aren’t a sustainable meat source if you want to reproduce more broilers on your homestead each year.
It is also quite labor intensive to keep these birds for longer than 10 weeks without developing health issues. You can keep them long-term, but you have to keep them on a strict diet to stop them from overgrowing.
If you are fine with purchasing more birds from a hatchery each year, then this isn’t an issue.
Cornish Cross Meat Birds eat constantly so they produce a lot of waste. If they don’t have much space to move around or you don’t clean their area daily, this waste will stink to the high heavens.
Raising Cornish Cross birds in a chicken tractor that is moved daily (or even twice a day) is a good way to keep the smell down.
Not Great for Free Ranging
If you have hopes of raising Cornish Cross chickens to free range, then you may need to reconsider. These birds are not good foragers and they will have trouble evading predators in a free range system.
Not Heat or Cold Hardy
Cornish Cross chickens don’t do particularly well in the extreme heat or the cold. They overheat easily in warm climates and they don’t fully feather out to keep them warm in colder climates.
I raised them in Tennessee during our heat waves this year, but they struggled.
If you are raising them in high temperatures, be sure to take steps to keep the birds cool.
Tips for Raising Cornish Cross Meat Birds
If you read through the pros & cons list and you have decided to move forward with this fast growing and heavy producing meat bird, then it is time to jump into the tips for raising Cornish Cross broilers.
#1 Raise Cornish Cross Broilers in a Chicken Tractor
It is best to keep Cornish Cross chickens in a chicken tractor. This chicken tractor should be moved at least once every day.
If the meat birds are kept in one stationary spot, then they will stay dirty and begin to stink. This also encourages the birds to eat bugs each time they move which will help to build more flavorful meat.
You can use any chicken tractor (I used my wooden open-bottom brooder), but I suggest one with a sturdy frame, hardware cloth sides, and an opening at the top & the side for feeding and watering. You will also need a tarp to provide shade on two sides and the top of the tractor.
#2 Offer Grit to the Meat Birds
I made a mistake this year. I thought that since my meat birds were moved to a new spot of pasture twice a day I wouldn’t need to offer grit. My layers don’t get grit because they find it for themselves, but the Cornish Cross birds did not.
I am not sure if this is because the section of pasture I chose for them was lacking in small rocks and other gritty material or if these birds just didn’t even try to pick any up. Either way, it is a great idea to go ahead and provide grit to these birds.
In the photo below, you can see the crop of one of my birds. It is huge. All of them were like this on butcher day. These birds had no grit in their crop or gizzard so the feed was just sitting. They were otherwise healthy, but now I know that grit needs to be easily accessible for them to avoid this kind of impaction.
#3 Expect a Difference in Appearance and Temperament from Layers
Cornish Cross meat chickens are very different from the laying hens and heritage chicken breeds that you may be used to in looks and disposition.
These birds do not fully feather out. They will have large “bald” spots because their energy is focused on meat production and not feather production.
Due to their extremely fast growth, they are less active than slower growing birds. Many of them will choose to lay around the feeder all day and may even eat while laying down.
They usually aren’t friendly. I haven’t experienced them being mean, per say, but they definitely aren’t lovable. This could be a good thing since they are only meant to be in our care for a few weeks, but it can get your fingers pecked.
In my experience, these birds seem almost dumb. My layers are smart and social, but the Cornish Cross didn’t seem to have a lot going on up there.
#4 Offer a High Protein Feed
Provide a 22-24% protein meat bird feed to your Cornish Cross broilers. This high protein content will help to support the rapid growth rate of these birds.
#5 Feed in rations
Offer feed for 12 hours during the day and pull the feed at night. If you leave the feed overnight a couple of things could happen…
#1 The birds will over eat and cause health problems.
#2 Rodents will move in at night to steal feed.
#6 Butcher at 8-10 Weeks of Age
Plan to process the Cornish Cross meat birds no later than 10 weeks. If they continue to grow past this time frame, they will grow too large and start to develop health issues.
Some people have kept them over a year as pets, but they put the birds on a strict diet. This is not recommended.
#7 Restrict Food 12 hours before butcher
About 12-24 hours before you plan to dispatch your meat birds, you should pull feed. This allows them the time to empty out their waste so you don’t have to deal with a full crop and intestines during processing.