Saturday, October 12, 2013

Free Ranging Cornish Cross (CX) Meat Birds

By Justine -

If you do not want to read about chickens used for meat, you may want to skip over this post. I am an omnivore and I eat meat, and enjoy eating meat. If I am going to eat it, I am going to raise it if possible, and know that what is on my plate has had a wonderful life full of adventures and fresh air. I will not send my birds to the butcher either. I want them to spend their very best and the one bad moment here at our farm. It is less stress on the birds in the end, and that is my feelings on the subject.

So please, if you are vegan or vegetarian move along… Don’t read this… Unless you are looking for proof that chickens for meat can be raised humanely. They also can be killed humanely – and that to me is of the very highest importance. We are thankful for every bite of chicken we take. We know that the animal did not live in vain. They were raised with love and care and strict attention to detail in their management.

I feel a very strong urge to advocate for all the abundant misinformation about the common broiler chickens and their apparent disturbing behaviour everyone seems to go on about.

Here are some of the many labels I often see associated with the Cornish Cross (CX):

  • Disgusting
  • Ugly
  • Smelly
  • Lazy
  • Can’t walk (leg issues)
  • Won’t forage..
  • Lie in their own filth
  • Organ failure – heart attacks common
  • Stupid
  • Tasty (*this one is true*)

What some folks may not know is that all of the above issues have to do with improper management! If your CX are disgusting, smelly, lazy, spending much of the day sleeping in their own filth before dying of heart failure, it is improper husbandry that is the issue, not the Cornish X!

The feeding guides shown online make my jaw drop. No wonder people complain about birds that are laying around, pooping every 5 seconds and sleeping in it. The instructions on raising the CX have mislead so many people. All the falsity is overwhelming. Threads on other chicken forums with the titles like: Cornish X’s = Nastiest birds EVER, do not help their case either.

Last year I had written off the hybrid as a Frankenchicken based on all the info I read online. I was dead-set against raising them on my free range only farm. I didn’t want to have birds penned up for their entire life... I heard that they can’t/won’t free range… I put my foot down… Until I saw one video that made me second guess everything I’ve read about prior. Maybe they can free range and be chickens after all? I might as well give it a shot… If they don’t pan out, I can at least say I tried, right?

This is MY experience with the hybrid better known as the Cornish Cross, CX or Meat Kings.

This is a week-by-week summary.

Week One and Two (Days 1 – 13)
I had a rough time with them from day 1 to 14 It was extremely humid and incredibly hot.. we had a run in with Cocci and lost 7 CX and 10 Red Sex Ling (RSL) chicks. We did not treat for cocci, but offered electrolytes (Stress Aid) the day after we noticed low movement and puffiness despite the heat.

They went quickly. Here in Canada you can not get Amprol without a vet’s prescription. It took me 48 hours to get my hands on some, and by that time the electrolytes really perked them up. The strong survived. After they were on grass, the birds were golden. No more illness (save one) who I moved back in and gave Amprol (the only one that was ever dosed). Chick was fine within 2 days and back out with everyone.

Two Weeks (Day 14-20) 
I opened the pop door and let them out. I continued to offer electrolyte water because of the heat being so stressful on the chicks. I found the first week they really didn’t go very far. They could not understand the concept of going BACK INSIDE at night. I had to pick each chick up and place inside the pop door (this includes the red sex link chicks).

Three Weeks (Day 21-27)
Finally the CX are spreading out and returning to the pen at night on their own. Real feathers coming in. They are a good 3 times the size of their hatch mates (the red sex link layers).

Four Weeks (day 28-34)
Really good at foraging now. They run as soon as they hear the back screen door slam shut. They want treats. They are getting closer and closer to my neighbour’s property line.

Five Weeks(day 34-40)
Almost 100% feathered out. They are passing our property lines and ranging two acres now. I do not like to watch them eat. They inhale food. I do love watching them forage though, and they are very active. As soon as the pop door is open they are off.

Six weeks (day 40-46)
Not much change since week five for experience. They have grown some. They are ranging exceptionally well. No leg injuries save one I accidentally jammed in the sliding door of the barn. She will be the first processed. Haven’t lost a single one since cocci outbreak.

See video proof of my CX birds free ranging @ 6 weeks (with other heritage birds, goats and rabbits). Many of them run like Phoebe on Friends 

Seven weeks (day 47-53)
I processed the girl with the injured leg. She was limping, but still got around. I didn’t want it to get any worse so she was processed along with three others. They were too small at this age. Roughly 3 pounds. We were going to do ten, but after seeing the first four gutted and weighed, we decided against it.

Eight weeks (day 54 – 60)
This is when most would start processing the CX. I figured they are still getting around very well, so I’ll give them a little longer. May do the boys at 9 weeks.

Nine Weeks (day 61-67)
They were hogging all the food at feeding time from EVERYONE, so we processed the largest 10 boys at 9 weeks old. Averaged out about 4.5 pounds. Largest was 5 pounds, smallest was just under 4. Much more breast meat seen than at 7 weeks.


10-11 Weeks (day 68-81)
This picture is at almost 11 weeks – I have 28 left to process. 4 are boys, 24 girls. Two of the girls look very small. I think I may keep them to laying age. A strict feeding regime is important to do this. I want to see what they will give out when bred to a Heritage Plymouth Rock. I know they don’t breed true.

At 12 weeks of age (88 days old) we processed 26 chickens - 22 pullets and 4 cockerels. You can see them in this video at that age. They were still extremely active and a good size. After they were processed (neck, feet and wing tips off) they averaged 5.5 pounds each. Smallest over 5 pounds, largest over 6. One chicken can feed 8 no problem (unless you are feeding teenage boys).

All in all I loved my experience with the CX. They are not the monsters you read about throughout the meat bird forum elsewhere.

What they are:
  • active,
  • intelligent
  • healthy
  • friendly
They are just chickens who just happen to be extremely food motivated, and were bred to gain weight at a 50:50 feed conversion ratio.

The poop smells like poop. The smell is indistinguishable from any other breed of chicken I have raised. It smells like poop. Keeping the litter dry and practising the deep litter method surely helps. If it is very humid out, I find Stable Boy helps greatly with the smell. They do poop bigger than other chickens their age because they EAT more.

If they are not allowed access to full feeders at all hours of the day, they will go on a mission, searching high and low for all of the food that our beautiful mother nature has to offer them. They are amongst the best foragers I have ever witnessed.

The only negatives I have noted is that they are food aggressive, so ample feeder space is required. They also do eat extremely fast and to watch them is not pleasant. It’s like watching a starving animal inhale their offerings twice a day. No matter what, they always seem to be hungry. They are not starving. Don’t let them trick you into feeding them at all hours because they INSIST they are starving. I don’t buy it.

- Justine-

Leigh Says:

So as you can see, when the Cornish Cross is kept in a healthy, natural setting where it is allowed to free range daily, the health issues we so often hear about are practically nonexistent. The birds kept in industrial settings create an amazingly stark contrast to the picture Justine has painted – The birds that generally end up in large supermarkets live their lives in crowded broiler houses where the only exercise they get is moving from the food to the water. They don’t have access to sunlight or fresh greens, and their health suffers for it.

Please see Justine's original post HERE.


  1. I really appreciate the week by week account of raising your Cornish X. I've read other posts & forum threads that also show that these birds can be raised cleanly & humanely. Thank you for adding your experience to the others out there.

  2. So we have a question :) Besides free-ranging, how did you offer their chicken feed? It looks like you didn't leave it out available to them all day. Did you feed them 2x a day? Some details in your feeding pattern would be great help. Thanks.

  3. And do you feed them Flock Raiser? We'd like to have some Cornish Cross next spring.

    1. We feed them starter (unmedicated) with scratch grains. :)

    2. Do you ferment this? Approximately what ratio of starter to scratch?

      We are thinking about raising some broiler chickens next year and I'm looking at ways to cut our feed costs. Our chickens will be in Polyface Farm-style chicken tractors on good pasture.

    3. Justine does soak/ferment the chicken feed.

  4. Thanks again. This IS inspiring and makes me look forward to trying some meaties as soon as I have adequate housing for them next spring.

  5. I want to try some as well in the spring. This was VERY useful info! Thanks!

  6. Do you find that on unmedicated feed that they grow a little slower? We are raising Cornish for market birds at our local 4H fair, we feed unmedicated fermented grower. Our chicks are considerably smaller than our friends who use medicated starter. We are afraid they won't make weight for the fair.

    1. Starter has a higher protein ratio than grower and will account for the size difference.

  7. Hmmm... no - in fact they should be growing a bit faster with the fermented feed and lack of Amprolium in their systems. Are you free ranging them? This would probably be why they are growing slower - they are getting more of a workout and relying on bugs.

    Raising chickens *naturally* and raising chickens to make market weight are two different things. That's not to say you can't sell birds that have been raised naturally and organically, but it does take longer.

    If you are not free ranging, then boost their feed intake, make sure there is no kahm yeast in your ferment (they don't like it - see our Fermented Feed tab at the top if you have questions about this) and check them for parasites. Ground pumpkin seeds will help naturally rid them of parasites.

    1. Thanks for you reply.

      They are slightly less than three weeks, so not free ranging yet. They are about about half the size of my friends birds which came from the same place on the same day as mine. Right now I don't see them making the 2 lb. @ 5 weeks lower limit for sale at the fair. One of the largest ones was only 1/3 lb. at 14 days. They seem to like the food, they inhale it when I set it down. I had one of those closed top chick feeders with the head holes, they seemed to have a hard time getting all the food out of that, now that I've taken the top off, they clean it out.

      I'm not worried about the slower growth, but I don't want to disappoint my kids that they can't sell them if they don't make weight.

      Should the pumpkin seeds be whole or shelled?

    2. Honestly, at their age parasites shouldn't be a problem. Check under their wings and look for lice / mites. If they don't have any, just make sure they are getting plenty of food. For fairs and the need to make weight, you don't want to limit their feed. If they are having a hard time with the fermented feed, sprinkle dry on top to encourage them to eat more.

    3. Another thought just crossed my mind. We get our feed from a farm that we trust, but its possible they accidentally gave us layer ration instead of grower ration. The bags aren't marked, so can't say for sure. I'm assuming that would stunt growth, would it cause any other issues?

    4. That is a possibility. It won't hurt them, but they won't grow as fast. They do much better with all the extra vitamins and nutrients present in grower feed. :-)

    5. Thank you for all your help!

    6. Most animals on big corporation farms are fed antibiotics to actually increase their weight gain. If the others are feeding medicated feed that makes since especially if they are feeding medicated grower feeds because they will include things in their specifically for growth and weight gain. sorry im so late in replying, I JUST saw this.


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