Raising free range Cornish Cross or Cornish X chickens, can it be done? The first time I helped process Cornish X meat birds I didn’t eat chicken again for 2 weeks. Not because of the death, plucking or gutting but how they looked and lived in their life. My friend raised them in her backyard just as she had been instructed; and I believe as humanely as possible for her space. But these frankenchickens were just icky. Too big to take more than a few steps, covered in mud or poo, stinking beyond description and missing most of the chest feathers from being down so much. In other words, though these animals were not changed up, they weren’t something I felt comfortable eating.
Over the years I’ve looked into raising meat birds but either it was waiting for months (not feasible with my space) or going to the Cornish Cross. Neither seemed viable. But the search continued to look for free range Cornish Cross chickens. That’s how I found Justine and her experience with free range Cornish cross chickens.
While I still lean to raising all heritage birds, I hope her experience will give you a different perspective on CX, even if you don’t ultimately raise them.
I’ll let Justine take over from here…
If you do not want to read about chickens used for meat, you may want to skip over this post. We are omnivores here, so we 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 those are my feelings on the subject.
I feel a very strong urge to be an advocate against the misinformation about the common broiler chickens and their apparent disturbing behavior everyone seems to go on about.
Here are some of the many labels I often see associated with the Cornish Cross:
- Can’t walk (leg issues)
- Won’t forage
- Lays in their own filth
- Organ failure – heart attacks common
- Tasty (*this one is true*)
What you don’t know is that all of this has to do with improper management! If your Cornish Cross 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 Cross! The feeding guides shown online make my jaw drop. No wonder these birds are laying around, pooping every 5 seconds and sleeping in it. It’s not your fault. The instructions on raising the Cornish Cross are misleading. All the falsity is overwhelming. Threads on backyard chickens with the titles like: Cornish Cross’s = Nastiest birds EVER, does not help their case.
Last year I had written off the Cornish Cross as a Frankenchicken based on all the info I read about 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. That is until I saw a video that made me second guess everything I’ve read about them 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 broiler better known as the Cornish Cross, Cornish X, CX or Meat Kings.
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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 Cornish X and 10 Red Sex Link 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). That chick was fine within 2 days and back out with everyone.
Free Range Cornish Cross – Two Weeks (Day 14-20)
I opened the pop door. 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).
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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 RSL layers).
Free Range Cornish Cross – Four Weeks (day 28-34)
They are 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 neighbor’s property line.
Free Range Cornish Cross – Five Weeks(day 34-40)
They are now 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, and they are very active. As soon as the pop door is open they are off.
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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 jammed in the sliding door of the barn. She will be the first processed. Haven’t lost a single one since cocci outbreak.
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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.
Free Range Cornish Cross – Eight weeks (day 54 – 60)
This is when most would start processing the Cornish Cross. I figured they are still getting around very well, so I’ll give them a little longer. May do the boys at 9 weeks.
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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. Each one averaged out about 4.5 pounds; the largest was 5 pounds and the smallest was just under 4. Much more breast meat seen than at 7 weeks.
Free Range Cornish Cross – 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.
Free Range Cornish Cross – A final word.
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; the smallest over 5 pounds and the largest over 6 pounds. 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 on BYC.
What they are:
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 not indistinguishable between any other breed of chicken I have raised. It smells like poop. Keeping the litter dry and practicing 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 among 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.
Les Farms was founded by Justine Lewis and her former partner in 2008. Over the years they had great success and over came many obstacles such as a barn fire that left them with very little of their flock surviving. After an amazing effort made by the farming community they where able to build a baby barn for the surviving flock as they built a new barn to house them in. In 2015 Ben Milmine joined the farm as co-owner and manager of operations. In 2016 Justine and Ben welcomed their son Greyson into the world and look forward to passing it down to him to run.