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.
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 feedback 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. An 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.
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.