This year I did something I swore I’d never do…
I ordered 25 Cornish Cross chicks.
If you’re not familiar with Cornish Cross, this is as close as you can get to the breed of chicken you buy at the grocery store.
Why did I swear I’d never raise Cornish Cross? Cornish Cross just seems unnatural to me. It is a cross-breed of chicken that cannot reproduce it’s own kind. It is a breed that is engineered to produce meat in the most efficient way possible (in other words – these chickens do nothing but eat and poop and sit around and get FAT). By the time they are butcher weight, they are so fat that their legs will hardly support them. And, I’m sorry if you disagree – but I just think they are UGLY!
Honestly, from my perspective, there are only two good things about Cornish Cross. You know what they ate and how they were treated, and they put relatively cheap meat on the table. And this year I needed cheap meat on my table, so I gave in and ordered the chicks.
The chicks arrived in a small box, less than a foot square. I ordered my chicks from Welp Hatchery, and they arrived with two extras. However we lost three in the first three days, so I consider that we started with 24. Welp recommends that you feed Cornish Cross round the clock for the first five days, and then feed 12 hours on, 12 hours off for the duration of their lives. The little buggers will literally eat themselves to death if you let them!
We set up our standard 3×5 brooder, and everything went smoothly, other than the losses which are to be expected after the stress of shipping. After five days it was time to start restricting feed, and since my schedule made it difficult to do the 12 on 12 off reliably, I decided to weigh out the amount of feed my chicks should be eating each day. You can find a chart to help you figure out the amounts here. Sure enough, they’d finish it in almost exactly 12 hours. At the end of one week, the Cornish Cross chicks were already the size of my three week old Barred Rocks.
In the second week I learned first hand the unpleasant truth about Cornish Cross chicks – they are POOP MACHINES! By this time they were eating over three pounds of feed a day – and what wasn’t being turned into meat was ending up on the floor of the brooder and making a TERRIBLE stink! I started having to clean out the brooder every other day. It was disgusting!
They also started to go absolutely nuts when I fed them in the mornings. I’ve never seen any animal act like that over food. They acted like they were starving to death!
In the third week the every other day cleanings became daily cleanings. Their brooder area ALWAYS stunk! They were eating 5 pounds of feed daily by the end of this week. We also lost another chick, so we were down to 23.
Here’s what that brooder looked like EVERY DAY. They turned a thick layer of fresh pine shavings into THIS – every single day.
This week, we moved them outside. They seemed to like being out on the grass, but still did little but lay around and eat. Once in a while you’d see one pecking at the grass, and once I saw one fly about a foot and a half up off the ground, but that was the exception, not the rule.
Weeks 5 – 7
Nothing much changed besides how much they were eating. We had to move the pen every day. We were also attracting lots of flies. Time to go buy some flypaper.
One day things were crazy and we didn’t get the coop moved. This is what it was like the next day. That’s not scratched up dirt. It’s my lawn smothered down by a half inch of poop. The only spots spared were where the waterers sat.
It was butcher week, and we lost two chicks. That left us 21. It was hot and they spent every afternoon laying there panting, even though we did everything in our power to keep them cool. This is one of the down sides to Cornish Cross. Their bodies grow so fast that their hearts and lungs and bones can’t keep up. Time to get these guys in the freezer.
If you’re interested in learning more about the butchering process, you can find one here. (Not for the squeamish)
I’ll be doing a couple of follow up posts in coming weeks: one about the costs of raising Cornish Cross for meat, and one about the cool coop Mr. Fix It made for them.