Interested in learning how to raise Cornish Cross chickens? You’ve come to the right place!
I’ll start with some exciting news. This year, in lieu of raising solely New Hampshire chickens for meat, we decided to raise Cornish Cross chickens!
Getting started ended up being a bit more challenging than we initially thought it would be. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was hard to source baby chicks from our usual hatcheries. We ended up finding a hatchery out of California and ordering our first batch of 100 birds. They arrived late last week.
There has admittedly been a bit of a learning curve involved in raising these buggers! They aren’t like the other chickens we have raised in the past, like New Hampshire Reds and Golden Comets.
There’s some other stuff you need to learn with these guys.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to get started raising cornish cross chickens.
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What Are Cornish Cross Chickens?
Cornish Cross chickens have rapidly evolved since their introduction to the meat bird industry in the 1920s.
The breed is the result of cross-breeding between two different breeds of chickens – the White Rock chicken and the commercial Cornish chicken. These birds have the ability to reach four to six pounds by just six to eight weeks of age.
This is truly remarkable when you consider how long it takes other breeds of chickens to mature.
Cornish Cross broilers grow rapidly and can be raised either in the early spring or early fall. Avoid raising them during the hottest days of summer if you live in a warm region, as they aren’t the best in the heat.
Reasons to Raise Cornish Cross Chickens
For us, there was one big reason to raise Cornish Cross birds. We wanted to be able to expand our meat bird offerings as we start selling to the local community.
As much as I love raising heritage chickens, they are unfortunately really difficult to sell unless you’re selling to an audience that is well-educated in all the benefits of heritage meat.
There are lots of myths floating around out there about Cornish Cross chickens – they’re smelly, they’re lazy, they’re fat – and to be fair, this sometimes might be true.
However, when raised properly, there are plenty of good reasons to raise Cornish Cross chickens. Here are a few of them:
Easy to Butcher
Cornish Cross chickens are some of the easiest chickens when it comes to slaughtering and processing time. The internal organs tend to dislodge from the chest cavity more easily, and they also produce fewer features than other birds, reducing your plucking chores, too.
The most obvious reason to raise Cornish Cross chickens is that they feather out and mature rapidly – almost at a truly unbelievable rate. Cornish Cross birds are ready for slaughter at around 7 to 10 weeks and have a great feed conversion rate. You won’t be feeding them for months before it’s time to get them on the dinner table.
Of course, this also means that Cornish Cross chickens tend to be less expensive to raise.
Challenges of Raising Cornish Cross Chickens
One of the biggest challenges in raising Cornish Cross chickens is that they don’t pasture as well as other species of chickens.
We plan on raising our birds in chicken tractors, as is our habit. But we don’t expect the birds to spend their days hunting for grubs and bugs like our other chickens do.
Cornish Cross chickens are a bit more lackadaisical and would much prefer grain to grass. While they’ll nibble at it occasionally, they don’t like to move around quite as much as other chickens. They are the true loafers of the chicken world!
We discovered this firsthand when we put a plate of Greek yogurt in our brooder. We did this to give the chicks a healthy dose of probiotics yesterday.
They sniffed around it, then went back to the grain feeder, leaving the yogurt mostly untouched.
THat’s something we aren’t used to, for sure!
Leg and Heart Issues
Cornish Cross Chickens are, sadly, known to be more likely to suffer from various ailments than other chicken breeds. Because they grow so quickly, it’s very easy for their legs to become swollen and infected. Therefore, it’s important that you keep a close eye on them. Make sure they aren’t overeating and getting enough exercise.
- Cornish Cross chickens can suffer from some of the following health issues:
- Leg issues that cause them to become lame before slaughtering time
- Brittle bones that break easily
- Heart problems, including stroke and heart attack
- Crop rupture
Raising Cornish Cross Chicks
When we received our Cornish Cross chicks in the mail from the hatchery, the first thing we noticed was how different they were from other chicks we had hatched or purchased in the past.
These birds have an odd shape if you’re used to seeing other day-old chicks. They look like miniature bodybuilders with a top-heavy build and a bulky frame.
As soon as you get your chicks home, make sure they go into a brooder box with a heat source. Most people use heat lamps but we use these chick warming plates. You’ll spend a bit more money upfront. However, they last a lot longer than heat bulbs and provide a more natural, even supply of heat.
Plus, they’re safer!
Either way, your chicks need to be kept at about 90 degrees for the first week. You’ll lower the temperature each successive week after that. It’s a good idea to place the food troughs and waterers at opposing ends of the brooder. This will encourage your birds to wander around.
The chicks are warm to the touch. They have downy feathers unlike other chicken breeds and they will feed – voraciously. In fact, Cornish Cross chicks eat all the time.
We invested in two of this style of feeding trough (but galvanized) because we knew we would need an extra trough to accommodate the extra chicks.
However, just three days into raising these birds, we knew that two troughs of this nature were probably not going to be enough.
Be Sure to Restrict Feed
Cornish Cross chicks want to eat all the time. Anywhere you put feed near them, they will go to town. But you need to be careful feeding them all they can eat because it can cause their crops to break. You may end up with quite a few dead chicks if you aren’t careful about moderating their feed.
Cornish Cross chicks can be given unlimited feed during the first five to seven days, but after that, it’s time to start restricting feed.
You can either provide feed in several chunks of time per day, or you can put the feeders in for 12 hours and remove them for 12 hours.
Water does not need to be restricted, however.
Cornish Cross chicks are generally ready to go outside by the time they are one month old.
At this point, they’ll have most of their adult feathers, except or the bottom breast area . They often do not feather in at all in this area.
Housing Cornish Cross Chickens
There is a bit of a misconception that Cornish Cross chickens stink. That can be true, but it’s something that’s true of all chickens and not just Cornish Cross. A chicken will put out just as much waste as it takes in. Since the Cornish Cross chicken has such a high metabolism, it doesn’t take long for the poop to start piling up.
I already mentioned that we plan to house our Cornish Cross chicks in chicken tractors. Even though they aren’t known to eat a lot of pasture, they produce a ton of waste.
Even if you’re engaging in a low-labor sort of bedding removal system like deep litter bedding, you are going to have quite the job on your hands when it comes to scooping poop every day.
Instead, try to get your Cornish Crosses housed in a way that they will have access to fresh ground every day. This will spread the poop around so it can fertilize your ground and also minimize odors. Plus, your birds will be protected from predators if they are kept in an enclosed pen – which is good, because these squat little devils aren’t the best at getting away from threats.
Even though Cornish Cross birds don’t like to wander around quite as much as other birds, it’s a bit of a misconception that they will just park it and not go anywhere else all day. These chickens will roost, free range, and dust bathe just like other chickens, as long as you give the opportunity to do so.
Another interesting caveat to raising Cornish Cross chickens is that you need to be careful raising them in extreme heat and/or at high altitude. They can handle the cold okay, but these other extreme conditions can be overly taxing on the birds’ hearts.
Feeding Cornish Cross Chickens
Because Cornish Cross chickens grow so quickly, it’s recommended that you take away the chicken feed at night.
You also need to be careful about using small particle bedding, like small shavings or sawdust, when you’re restricting feed because they will eat the bedding. Of course, this can cause crop impaction and even death.
Otherwise, feeding your Cornish Cross chickens will be approximately the same as feeding chickens of other breeds. For 100 birds, you will need approximately 1200 pounds of food total – or 10-14 pounds of chicken feed over the course of one bird’s life.
You can use any kind of feed you want, but a broiler feed is recommended. Do not use a layer feed, which can overtax your bird’s already hard-working organs with the excess calcium.
Remember, vegetable scraps and other occasional treats are fine, but avoid any of the off-limits foods on this list.
Can You Raise Cornish Cross Chickens for Egg Production?
A commonly asked question about raising Cornish Cross birds is whether they can be raised to lay eggs. This is not advised.
Because Cornish Cross chickens were bred to grow quickly and produce large quantities of meat, the reality is that by 16 weeks old, they are going to be at a higher risk of severe heart problems. You wouldn’t be doing your Cornish Cross chickens any favors by keeping them longer than the recommended 8-10 weeks.
Can You Raise Cornish Cross Chickens With Other Chicken Breeds?
If you want to integrate your Cornish Cross chickens with birds of other breeds – whether it’s New Hampshires, Orpingtons, or some other type of chicken – the good news is that you can, but do so cautiously.
Cornish Cross chickens are large, but they’re unlikely to be particularly aggressive. You may find that there are a few aggression issues in your flock when you have multiple breeds of chicken, but these usually aren’t related to red differences but instead are due to the pecking order.
Butchering Cornish Cross Chickens
As you’re likely already aware of, Cornish Cross chickens grow incredibly fast. By just six weeks of age – the time at which most chickens are in their awkward, teenaged dinosaur-like years – your Cornish Cross chickens will look like adult birds.
The rooster will have wattles and combs and your birds will be curious about just about everything!
By eight weeks, your chickens are ready to go, although it might be best to wait until ten weeks for hens to be fully mature, too. Your roosters should be over four pounds by this point, too. Be careful about butchering these birds after ten weeks, because this is when the propensity to develop some health problems can increase.
If you’re interested in learning how to butcher a chicken and prepare it for the freezer, make sure you check out these articles:
There you have it! Everything you need to know about raising Cornish Cross chickens. Have you raised these birds before? Let me know how it went for you by chiming in below!
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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