Sunday, November 06, 2011

Cornish Cross 101

 We first started raising chickens a little over five years ago. When we purchased chickens, we would simply buy a straight run of a dual purpose birds, like RI Red, or Buff Orpington, and when the cockerels started crowing into the freezer they went.

In the spring of 2010 we went in with some friends to raise our first 100 Cornish Cross chickens. I feel like I'm still learning how to raise these birds, but here are some of the things I've learned about this cross breed.

They are a cross breed between the Cornish and White Plymouth rock chickens. I was a bit confused when I read that because the only Cornish bird I know is the Cornish Game Hen you get in the grocery store. How could such a small bird be included in a cross that yielded quick growing, large meat birds? With a little research, I found out those game hens are 4 weeks old! 

Plymouth Rock
The Cornish is a large, but short stocky bird. The Rocks are large bird on a taller frame. The cross is a heavy large bird.

They are bred to grow quickly and produce a lot of meat. They are not meant to survive to reproduction, and can have a lot of health problems because of their size, especially if left to grow too large.

They are the bird that most large operations use for chicken production. They grow fast. The Cornish cross can produce a 4-5 pound finished product in as little as seven weeks. The dual purpose breeds we've used before can take up to six months to produce the same sized bird, and the meat distribution is different. The crosses have a lot of white meat, another reason they are used in commercial production.

Left- 6 month Golden Comet. Right- 11 week old Cornish Cross
Raising these birds begins like any other chickens. They are cute and fluffy. Their growth rate is noticeable after the first week.

One Day Old Cornish Rock Crosses

One Week Old Barred Rock and Cornish Rock Crosses. Note: they were about the same size at hatching.

The feed needs to be a high percent of protein. We prefer to use non-medicated feed, and started our first batch of these birds on Purina flock raiser. They grew well, but their droppings made wonder if the feed was properly digested. It reeked beyond normal chicken smell and was very loose. Later, a friend recommended a recipe online for broiler feed, and we worked with our feed store to have them custom mix the feed for us. The good news was it seemed to agree with the chickens better. The even better news was that it was about half the price.

These birds are not natural foragers. They are perfectly content to lay as close to the feeder as possible for the entire day. Our first batch of birds we had in with the hens. We figured that in the morning, the Crosses would learn to go out the door and down the ladder with the rest of the chickens. It never happened. I brought greens  to them. They really didn't seem to care.The pictures below are from the first batch of birds we raised.

2 weeks.

4 weeks.

5 weeks.

7 weeks.

Since then we've converted rabbit hutches and made a tractor to get the birds on grass more. It has helped, and they will go and forage and eat bugs and scratch like I expect a chicken to, but they never stray too far from the feeder.

Converted rabbit hutches

Chicken Tractor
Since we've changed feed and got the birds out on pasture, the growth has slowed some. I am ok with that because I think it is healthier for them, and we also see less of the health problems that are attributed to their sudden growth.

The good points about these birds are they grow quickly, and are meaty birds with a lot of white meat. Those bonuses come with some drawbacks. They are prone to broken legs, often at the hip. I have yet to have one recover from a broken leg. They also are likely to keel over of a heart attack, especially in the heat, or a sudden upswing of temperatures. In the cold they will smother each other.

If you raise these bird yourself, on pasture, their flavor will far surpass any chicken you buy at the grocery store. But, I think the slow growing dual purpose birds have a lot more flavor than the Cornish Crosses.

There are good and bad points to raising these birds. You can't beat them for quick growth and meaty bodies. If you are growing them for sale, the large breast and mild taste are what most people expect from a chicken.

I've begun to read a bit about another cross breed, the Colored Ranger, that is supposed to be a better cross for foraging. Their growth is a bit slower than the Cornish Cross. I am considering trying a batch of these in the spring. Anyone else tried this cross breed? What did you think?

1 comment:

  1. I've never tried the cross. I've only had the old fashion kind. lol