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Raising Cornish Cross Chickens for Meat

Raising your own meat birds is a wonderful way to be more self sufficient on your homestead. You know what your birds are being fed and you give them a good life before it is time to eat them. The Cornish Cross is one of the most popular meat chickens. These are the large chickens you typically purchase from the grocery store.broilers

A common misconception with the Cornish Cross is that they are genetically modified (GMO). They are not. The Cornish Cross are simply a cross between two breeds chosen by their traits, and selectively bred over time to create this hybrid. As a result, you get a meat bird with amazing feed conversion and an ability to mature in eight weeks. When butchered, this breed gives you high quality, very tasty meat high in protein.

When receiving your chicks, always provide them with a brooder that is enclosed, with a proper bedding of shavings, a towel, or pine pellets. A non skid shelf liner can be used as well. Provide a heat bulb so the brooder is at a 95 degree F temperature. The lamp can be raised or lowered as needed. If the chicks move away from the heat source they are too hot. If they huddle around the heat, they are too cold. You want the birds to be scattered comfortably throughout the brooder. Reduce the brooder temperature by 5 degrees F each week until the birds are comfortable at room temperature. Having a thermometer in your brooder is highly recommended. Purely Poultry sells a chick starter kit as well as other accessories to help you get started.

**IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT FEEDING YOUR CORNISH CROSS

Feed and water your chicks daily. Because the Cornish crosses grow so rapidly, special care must be taken regarding their feeding schedule. For the first five days, give them free choice of food. At the end of the 5th day, remove their feed. 12 hours later, put their feed back and allow them to eat at will for another 12 hours. Remove the feed again that night. The exact time does not matter, as long as it is in 12-hour intervals and is consistent from day to day. You will continue this interval feeding until it is time to butcher the birds. Failure to do this can lead to growth and heart issues. A chick starter of 20-22% protein is an ideal feed for feeding the birds for the first 5 weeks of age.

When the birds are between the ages of 2-4 weeks, or when they have completely grown in their feathers, they can go into a grow out pen. Make sure they have shelter and proper fencing to prevent predator problems. A heat source should be added at night if the birds show behaviors of being cold. A 18% chick grower should be fed to the chicks  from 5 weeks until butcher time.

The Cornish cross are typically butchered between 8-9 weeks of age based on your preference or the weight of the bird. At 9 weeks of age, males will be around 10 pounds, females around 8.

Cornish Game hens are the same bird, but butchered around 4 weeks of age, or around 2.5 pounds. Despite the name hen, these can be male or female.

Key Pointers

  • It is recommended to have the feed and water easy to reach as the birds are short and can’t move much due to their body conformation

  • Roosting bars are not recommended because it causes sores and blisters on the breasts

  • Follow the proper feed guidelines. These birds grow fast and you do not want them die off early on due to overeating

Looking for an alternative to the Cornish Cross, you can try the slower growing heritage dual breeds or our free range broilers.



31 responses to “Raising Cornish Cross Chickens for Meat”

  1. Danielle says:

    Hello there,
    I am getting 125 jumbo cornish x rock chicks this evening, what would you think to be the proper size coop, enclosure, for that amount of birds? This will be my first time raising meat birds. I have found your other information very helpful!
    Thank you very much, have a wonderful day!
    Sincerely,
    A fellow chicken owner,
    Danielle.

  2. Shannon Mock says:

    Hi Danielle and Thanks for your inquiry! While 1 square foot per bird is the industry standard, we here at Purely Poultry really feel like 2 square feet per bird is more appropriate. So, I you have 123 birds, you should really plan on a space that 250 square feet. Hope that helps! ~Shannon M

  3. Moses says:

    At what age do they start to lay?

  4. Shannon Mock says:

    Moses,
    Thanks for the question! All chickens, in general, begin laying eggs at about 6 months old. With these meat birds be sure to ration their feed carefully to avoid poor health or even death in order to get them to that laying stage. I hope this helps! ~ Shannon M

  5. Jerry Moncad says:

    This is the second year we have raised chickens this year we’re having a problem with the chickens laying down and don’t want to move the chickens are about 2.5 to 3 lb and since they’re not ready to be butchered will feed them in place please advise

  6. Anna Pattermann says:

    Hi Jerry!

    I can tell you that some batches of Cornish are far lazier than others. Give us a call so we can get more information from you to help you trouble shoot. 920-472-4068. Thank you and have a great day!
    ~Anna

  7. ntombizetu zawula says:

    I have a big space so when I feed them I make sure that I put thier feed in a distance so that they run a little bit to avoid that sideway falling maybe you can try it too

  8. janeg says:

    Just processed our meaties today. Ordered 30 and lost 8 along the way. We let them go to 10 weeks 3 days. Average weight after processing with bones was 6.5 lbs. This was our second batch. First batch averaged 5.5 lbs. We choose to let the second batch run around with our egg layers. Much happier birds…..well they were up until we starting catching them to process.

  9. Shannon Mock says:

    Thanks for your wonderful information! This will likely help all other meat bird raisers as well! Enjoy the wonderful self-raised meat you have now! We appreciate you!!

  10. D. Murphy says:

    I wouldn’t recommend Cornish cross as layers. Their lifespan is limited even if you could keep them from overeating, and their structure does not hold up well to their massive weights. Many heritage breeds make wonderful layers and won’t cost as much in feed–as well as being way more interesting. An alternative would be the “red sex link” which is a brown egg laying cross that starts laying earlier.

  11. Anna Pattermann says:

    Thank you so much for the input! We truly appreciate it! Have a great day!

  12. Suzie Homesteader says:

    Hi there, Thank you for all the wonderful information. We are on our second batch of 200 Cornish Cross. We live on Cape Cod where the climate is more temperate than the rest of New England, but have noticed that our new birds are growing much slower in the cooler weather. They still have nice forage fields for grazing in the tractors and are supplemented with organic grower feed. We tried heated shelters inside the tractors, but this attracted rats that harmed some pullets. Since its November and the days are getting shorter, is it better to make sure they are moved, fed, and watered as close to daybreak as possible? Does cooler weather make them grow slower? Thanks for any insight you can offer 🙂

  13. Anna Pattermann says:

    Hi Suzie,
    I don’t know the exact reasoning, but I hear this as a relatively common complaint. I believe, but am not certain, what happens is these birds are spending a great deal more energy and calories in staying warm during the colder months. This would likely directly impact how quickly they grow adding 1-3 weeks to their process time in many areas if you are not heating their coops (which I personally do not suggest due to fire hazards). I really don’t have many suggestions as to how to increase growth beyond maybe adding additional proteins to their diet.
    ~Anna

  14. Robin B says:

    I think if you add a little corn it may keep them warmer

  15. micheal says:

    hi ..i have cornish chickens about 200…they take to long for me to grow to the correct age to be slaughterd…i use nova and have all the nutrition and protein…im i doing something wrong

  16. Anna Pattermann says:

    Hi Michael,
    Cornish cross should be raised to the age of 6-8 weeks on average to slaughter.

  17. Marcus moyers says:

    I have 30 Cornish cross chickens I feeding them am and pm and plan to butcher in 8 weeks.Im doing things right.?
    Marcus m

  18. Shannon Mock says:

    What we normally recommend for the Cornish is free access to water, and free access to food 12 hours per day, with zero access to feed for the remaining 12 hours per day. If you feel like your birds are somewhere in the same vicinity of amounts eaten per day using the method you’re using, I would say you’re doing great. It’s really about not giving them too much. Best of luck!

  19. Ida says:

    This is my third time rasing x large Cornish for meat. My average weight is between 9-12 lbs at 8 to 9 weeks. I fed 22% protein, yogurt, greens from my garden and watermelon…Lost only one out of 100. Best meat bird. My next delivery is April 30, so excited

  20. Joe says:

    I bought three Cornish rocks from tractor supply, new to the chicken world and kind of a test run for meat birds. I built a coop for the layers I got but i am pretty positive it’s too tall for the meat birds to get in. The meat birds are four-five weeks old and I am going to put them outside. In the 30’s at night 40-60’s during the day (Michigan weather). I was thinking of taking a Rubbermaid plastic tote, leaving the top on, and cutting a 12×12 hole in the side for them lay in at night. Would this work? I would put the tote in the 8’x4’ run I built. The bottom of the coop is 3’ off the ground.

  21. Shannon Mock says:

    Hey Joe, Thanks for leaving a review! Yes, it would work, but I’d fear a predator entering the make-shift coop at night unless your run is covered and secure. Other than than, I’m always impressed with the ingenuity that comes from basic need. Necessity really is the mother of invention! Best of luck on your first run of Cornish Rock! Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything else you can think of. Have a great day!

  22. Suzie says:

    Hi Joe,

    Last October we modified some large Rubbermaid totes the way you described and added heat lamps to them as well. We had our birds in tractors with partial roofs and windblocks (12 X 16 feet each) with 10-12 birds per tractor. We had an unusually cold, wet Fall and our birds weren’t growing well. The totes worked well to warm the birds, but attracted predators that tunneled under some of the tractors, killing the chickens. We lost a fair amount of birds, so much so that we had to give up and process before they reached optimum weight. If your run is very well sealed against predators, you may have good luck with the totes. But considering you have only three birds, (we had 200), it may be easier and safer to simply bring them into your garage, shed or basement at night until it warms up. Good luck!

  23. Rebekah says:

    We are raising a batch of 27 Cornish X on Green Mountain organic broiler crumbles, 19% protein, 12 hours on feed, 12 hours off. I notice that they seem to be growing more slowly than my sister’s bird from the same batch on conventional feed. Hatch date was March 28. They still have access to a warming light and are housed in a 7′ x 7′ shed. Would I be safe taking them out to 10 weeks at this rate? Looking for them be be over 7 or 8 pounds, and I would estimate them between 2 and 3 pounds now.

  24. Julie says:

    I raised 200 Cornish cross and my chicken meat seemed tough this time what did I do wrong we processed them properly and let them cool in ice for 24 hours.?

  25. Cory says:

    This is my first time raising meat chickens, I got 30 Cornish cross fryers. They are about 4 weeks old now and they are not quite filling out with feathers? It’s almost kind of raw spots? Am I doing something wrong? The 30 chicks are dived into 2 cages, each cage about 16 sq ft. I did not know to take there food away for 12 hrs until I read this page. Thank you for any advice!

  26. Cory says:

    Also one other question, before putting the bird into the defeathering machine, would you recommend scolding the bird first? Thank you for your help and advice

  27. Shannon Mock says:

    Absolutely, Cory! Scalding will help the feathers loosen so it should be done before attempting to remove the feathers whether you’re hand plucking or using a chicken plucker (defeathering machine).

  28. Shannon Mock says:

    Hey Cory,

    Nope you aren’t doing anything wrong. It is a genetic, for lack of a better word, mutation of the birds to not have full feathering. The appear as though they lost feathers and maybe are even sunburnt in those areas. But that’s not the case. In these birds, the protein is going to muscle and mass building instead of the feathering so this is completely normal.

  29. Shannon Mock says:

    Julie,
    At what age did you butcher? Cornish are best between 6-9 weeks. If you did during this time, we can explore other avenues. Let us know! ~Shannon M

  30. Shannon Mock says:

    Absolutely, Rebekah! You can take them as late as 10 weeks, but no longer as the meat will become tough. I did mine at 10 weeks and it was fabulous! Best of luck. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you can think of anything additional that we can help with.

  31. Cory says:

    Thank you Shannon! I appreciate the help and this web site! So reading everything I should plan on processing the birds at 7-10 weeks? How should I determine when? By weight? Thanks again for all your help! It’s awesome you have this website and are willing to help out so much!

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