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):
- Can’t walk (leg issues)
- Won’t forage..
- Lie in their own filth
- Organ failure – heart attacks common
- 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:
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.
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.