Raising Cornish Cross Meat Chicken On The Homestead


Share away friends!

There’s a first time for everything, and this spring is our first with raising meat birds. Cornish Cross to be exact. I’ve become more and more disillusioned with meat from the store. I’ve noticed a difference in taste, texture, and of course, lately price. And while I love gardening and eating all the fruits and veggies, meat is a necessity at our dinner table. The reason we moved to a homestead in the rolling hills of West Tennessee was to be able to produce more of our own food. Last year we raised pigs, and this spring, we’re trying our hands at broiler production. 

This post is in partnership with Roots and Harvest, a family-owned company that celebrates and supports homemade, home-grown living.

There are many chickens you can use as meat birds, and there are multiple ways to go about the process of butchering them. We’ll cover dual purpose chickens breeds, broiler breeds, and why we decided on cornish crosses and our plan to process them. 

Remember in homesteading, (urban or smaller farm) There’s not many hard and fast rules. The joy of homesteading is its customizable to you and your situation, likes and dislikes. You might find 10 families that butcher 10 different ways. Take the info you want and leave what you don’t. Come up with your right way to raise and harvest poultry, and whatever else you decide to do on the farm. 

The difference between egg laying birds and meat birds

The development of specific meat bird breeds like the Cornish Cross is a relatively recent occurrence, 1948 to be exact, in the history of poultry farming. Before the specialized meat breeds, farmers typically raised dual-purpose breeds that were suitable for both meat and egg production. These all-purpose breeds were bred for traits like hardiness, egg production, and moderate meat quality. I have a full post on my favorite egg laying and dual purpose breeds here.

How Cornish Cross Came To Be

The Cornish Cross emerged in the mid-20th century through selective breeding efforts to create a chicken breed optimized for rapid growth and efficient meat production. It is a hybrid cross between the Cornish and White Plymouth Rock breeds, combining the meatiness of the Cornish with the fast growth rate of the Plymouth Rock. This breeding program resulted in a bird that reaches market weight quickly, (6 to 8 weeks of age on average) making it well-suited for commercial and home meat production.

Before the development of specialized meat breeds, farmers relied on traditional breeds like the Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Sussex for both meat and egg production. These breeds were more multipurpose, with moderate meat production capabilities compared to the specialized meat breeds we see today.

Best Meat Chicken Breeds

  1. Cornish Cross: Perhaps the most widely used meat chicken breed, the Cornish Cross is known for its exceptional growth rate and meat quality. These birds reach market weight in a relatively short time, making them a top choice for commercial meat production.
  2. Freedom Ranger: This breed is favored by many small-scale and organic farmers for its excellent foraging ability, flavorful meat, and slower growth rate compared to Cornish Cross. Freedom Rangers are known for their robust health and ability to thrive in free-range environments.
  3. Red Ranger: Similar to the Freedom Ranger or the Red Broiler chickens, the Red Ranger is a slower-growing meat chicken breed valued for its flavor and ability to thrive in pasture-based systems. They are known for their robustness and adaptability to various climates and management practices.
  4. Label Rouge: Originating from France, Label Rouge chickens are bred for their superior meat quality and flavor. They are raised under strict production standards that emphasize outdoor access, slow growth, and traditional farming methods, resulting in exceptionally tasty meat.
  5. Delaware: Although originally bred as a dual-purpose breed, Delaware chickens are known for their meaty carcasses and flavorful meat. They have a relatively fast growth rate compared to heritage breeds and are valued for their calm temperament and suitability for free-ranging.
  6. Jersey Giant Chickens: While primarily known as a dual-purpose breed, Jersey Giants are also raised for their large size and meat production. They take longer to reach market weight compared to some other meat breeds but are valued for their tender and flavorful meat.

Meat Bird Issues To Be Aware of:

Meat birds, particularly those bred for rapid growth and high meat production, can be susceptible to various health issues and management challenges if not butchered at the proper time. They are not bred to live long enough to lay eggs.

If not butchered at the proper time, some common issues with meat birds can include:

  1. Skeletal Problems: Rapid growth rates can strain the skeletal system of meat birds, leading to issues such as leg deformities, lameness, and skeletal disorders like angular limb deformities and slipped tendons.
  2. Cardiovascular Issues: Meat birds may experience cardiovascular problems due to their rapid growth rate, which can lead to heart failure or heart attacks.
  3. Respiratory Diseases: Meat birds housed in crowded or poorly ventilated conditions may be prone to respiratory diseases such as infectious bronchitis, chronic respiratory disease, and mycoplasma infections.
  4. Heat Stress: Meat birds are sensitive to high temperatures, and heat stress can occur during hot weather, especially in poorly ventilated or overcrowded housing facilities. Heat stress can lead to decreased feed intake, reduced growth rates, and even death in severe cases.
  5. Feed Conversion Efficiency: While meat birds are bred for efficient meat production, maintaining optimal feed conversion efficiency can be challenging. Improper feeding practices, inadequate nutrition, or poor-quality feed can result in suboptimal growth rates and higher production costs.
  6. Management Challenges: Meat birds require careful management to ensure their health and well-being. Proper housing, ventilation, sanitation, and biosecurity measures are essential to prevent disease outbreaks and maintain flock health.
  7. Predation: Meat birds raised in free-range or pasture-based systems may be vulnerable to predation from predators such as foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey. Implementing effective predator control measures is crucial to protect the flock from losses.
  8. Stress-related Issues: Handling, transportation, and other stressors can impact the health and welfare of meat birds, leading to decreased growth rates, increased susceptibility to disease, and reduced meat quality.
  9. Feather pattern: Some meat bird breeds may be genetically predisposed to certain feather-related issues. For example, the rapid growth rate and body conformation of breeds like the Cornish Cross can sometimes lead to patches of missing feathers or bare skin.

How To Purchase Cornish Cross

Research: Start by researching different meat bird breeds and determining which ones best suit your needs and production goals. Consider factors such as growth rate, meat quality, suitability for your climate and environment, and any specific requirements you may have for raising the birds.

Find a Supplier: Once you’ve decided on a breed, find a reputable supplier or hatchery from which to purchase your meat birds. You can search online for hatcheries that specialize in poultry breeds or ask for recommendations from other poultry enthusiasts in your area.

Place an Order: Contact the supplier or hatchery to place your order for meat birds. Specify the breed, quantity, and preferred delivery or pickup date if applicable. Some hatcheries may have minimum order requirements, so be sure to inquire about any restrictions or guidelines.

Arrange Delivery or Pickup: Depending on the supplier’s policies, you may have the option to have the meat birds delivered to your location or arrange for pickup at the hatchery. Coordinate with the supplier to ensure a smooth delivery or pickup process.

Prepare for Arrival:

Before the meat birds arrive, make sure you have everything ready to accommodate them, including suitable housing, feed, waterers, and any other equipment or supplies they may need. Ensure that the housing facilities are clean, dry, and properly ventilated to provide a healthy environment for the birds.

Receive and Care for the Birds: Once the meat birds arrive, carefully inspect them for any signs of stress, injury, or illness. Provide them with access to feed, water, and a comfortable environment, and monitor their health and well-being closely during the initial adjustment period.

Raise and Manage the Birds: Follow recommended husbandry practices for raising meat birds, including providing appropriate nutrition, managing housing and environmental conditions, implementing biosecurity measures, and monitoring for any signs of disease or health issues.

By following these steps, you can successfully purchase and raise meat birds for your homestead or farm, whether you’re a seasoned poultry producer or new to raising chickens for meat.

Preparing for meat birds

Preparing for the arrival of your Cornish Cross chicks involves setting up a brooder to provide them with the warmth they need during their early days. Initially, ensure the brooder maintains a temperature of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the first week of their lives. Gradually reduce the temperature by five degrees Fahrenheit each subsequent week as they grow accustomed to their surroundings. By the time they reach three weeks of age, weather permitting, you can consider transitioning them outside to a chicken tractor, offering them more space and access to fresh air. Stay tuned for a future post delving deeper into the details of chicken tractors and how to make one for your growing flock!

For meat chicks, a high-quality starter feed with a protein content of around 20-22% is typically recommended for the first few weeks of their life. This feed provides the essential nutrients needed for their rapid growth and development. As they grow older, you can transition them to a grower feed with slightly lower protein content, around 18-20%. It’s important to ensure that the feed you choose is specifically formulated for meat birds like Cornish Cross, as their nutritional needs differ from those of egg-laying breeds. Additionally, providing access to fresh, clean water at all times is crucial for their health and growth. Meat birds drink a significant amount of water. For bedding, great options are wood shavings, straw, or even sand for easy cleaning. 

Butchering Now, Versus When Grandma Did it

Back in the day, Grandma, or whoever was in charge of meal preparation, would often go out to the coop on the day of the meal and select a chicken for butchering. This process was known for its freshness and connection to the food source, as the chicken went from coop to table in a matter of hours.

However, as agriculture and homesteading practices evolved, so did the approach to raising and butchering chickens. With the introduction of specialized meat breeds which reach market weight at a much faster rate, many found it more efficient to batch the butchering process. This saved time, and gave the dinner preparer more freedom and ease while making dinner. 

(And we think dinner time is messy. Imagine throwing a whole butchering and plucking process into the meal prep at least once a week!) 

Rather than slaughtering chickens on an as-needed basis, many people now prefer to designate specific days, typically once or twice a year, for large-scale butchering operations.

Batch processing offers several advantages for homesteaders. Firstly, it allows for more efficient use of resources and time. By processing multiple chickens at once, we can streamline the butchering process and minimize the time and effort required for preparation and cleanup. Additionally, batch processing enables us to better manage their inventory of meat, ensuring a steady supply throughout the year.

While the approach to chicken butchering has changed over time, the underlying principles of self-sufficiency and connection to the food source remain central to the homesteaders core. Whether it’s butchering chickens as needed or batching the process on designated days, we continue to find ways to integrate traditional practices with modern convenience.

The Need To Knows Of Batch Processing

Why batch processing of broiler birds offers many benefits, it also comes with considerations that need addressed. One crucial aspect is the requirement for appropriate equipment and sufficient help to streamline the process.

First consideration: having the right equipment is essential for a smooth and safe butchering operation. 

This typically includes items such as sharp knives, cutting boards, scalder, plucking machine, and evisceration tools. Investing in quality equipment can greatly streamline the process and ensure the safety and quality of the meat. 

Second, batch processing often requires the assistance of multiple helpers to handle various tasks involved in the butchering process. From catching and restraining the birds to eviscerating and packaging the meat, having a few extra hands can significantly speed up the process and reduce the workload for each individual.

Know where to store

Where are you keeping your processed birds? While a standard above-fridge freezer may suffice for small-scale operations or occasional processing, it’s unlikely to accommodate the volume of birds processed during a batch processing session. Homesteaders may need to invest in additional cold storage solutions such as chest freezers or walk-in coolers to store the processed meat safely for long-term use.

​We’re sharing our Cornish Cross journey, in real time! 

Come with us as we document every step of raising and harvesting meat birds in real time at Whalen Farms, supported by our generous sponsor, Roots and Harvest. Over the next six weeks, we’ll take you through the entire process – from acquiring the chicks, nurturing them, to the ultimate harvest. Come along as we share our experiences and insights, successes and failures, learning with us in this new adventure in self sufficiency and growing our own food. 

Stay tuned for weekly updates as we delve into various aspects of poultry farming, including discussions with expert guests on chicken butchering techniques and addressing common concerns. Keep informed and engaged by checking back regularly (And on instagram!) as we navigate this adventure of poultry farming together!

Want to know how to keep laying chickens? Check out this post!

Share away friends!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *