Filling the Freezer: Raising Cornish Cross Chickens

Raising Cornish cross chickens for the freezer

I've heard them called "Frankenbirds," but they aren't.

They aren't genetically modified (also called "GMO") either. These white chickens are simply a fast-growing hybrid. Simply put, chickens are one of the easiest livestock for man to improve by selective breeding because their life cycle is so short. 

Whatever the breed, pullets (young female chickens) begin laying eggs at around six months old - some breeds are earlier, some are later - so the time invested before we can see the results of our experimental breeding is less than a year; we can conceivably have two generations in just over a year's time.

Compare that to cattle, hogs and other livestock. Whether someone is breeding for show or for meat, the results of that breeding can be seen much faster in poultry. Especially when the goal is a fast-growing meat bird that's harvested at 8-10 weeks old.

"Cornish Rock cross" chickens are basically a cross between white Cornish and white Rock chickens. Most people call them Cornish cross but you might find them listed on hatchery websites as Jumbo Cornish X Rocks; meat birds are also referred to as broilers, roasters and fryers. These birds grow extremely fast, making them an ideal source of protein on the homestead.

Raising Cornish cross chickens for the freezer

We picked up 25 fluffy little yellow Cornish cross chicks back in October. As always when we look at those tiny fuzzballs that weigh just a few ounces and fit easily in the palm of our hands, we think "there's no way these will be big enough to butcher by eight weeks." But they are! Trust me on this. 

When you bring home your chicks, figure out when they'll be eight weeks old and write it on your calendar. We waited until they were nine weeks old; it's recommended that you butcher them by ten weeks at the latest.

It didn't take long for those chicks to outgrow the big plastic bin "brooder" we always start our chicks in. After just three days we divided them into two bins. In another week they were in the 100+ gallon water trough we use as a brooder (it leaks, but it's perfect to use in a dry situation). 

And when that was too small, they went into the empty duck coop until they were nine weeks old and ready to "move on out of here." Hubby said that they doubled in size every time he looked at them, and I think he was right.

What to feed your Cornish Cross meat chickens.

Meat birds need a high-protein feed to support their fast growth. Chick starter/grower feed is excellent at 24% protein, but I could only find medicated feed which I didn't want to feed birds that would be my food. Instead I fed ours Purina's Flock Raiser, which is 20% protein. 

Nutrena offers a meat bird feed with 22% protein; I found it at Tractor Supply occasionally but it was often out of stock.

Cornish cross chicks gain weight too quickly if they are allowed to eat constantly. This leads to leg issues (their bodies are too heavy for their legs to support) and heart attacks (their hearts are too small for those large bodies). This is another reason to butcher them before they are ten weeks old.

Raising Cornish cross chickens for the freezer

There's a fine line between not feeding them enough and overfeeding them. How do you know how much to feed them?

Well, I was gone for a week when the birds were about five weeks old, and hubby fed them while I was gone. When I got home he said they were monsters and he was afraid for his life when he went in the pen! 

They'd grown so much while I was gone that they needed more food and they were attacking the feed bowl before he even finished filling it. 

If you're raising Cornish cross and you think they'll attack you when you feed them, you're not feeding them enough.

Their eating habits are very different from those of laying hens. They don't forage well or nibble grass. They prefer to sit right next to the feeders and wait for them to be refilled.

And of course they need more water too, to wash down and digest all that feed. I was carrying more water to the meat birds than I was to the ducks, who are notorious for playing in their water until it's all gone.

A big difference between Cornish cross and egg-laying breeds is the smell. These birds eat a lot, and in turn they, well, produce a lot of manure. Very smelly manure

The brooder and the coop need to be cleaned very often, and even then it's hard to keep these white birds clean. 

Next time we raise them, we plan to use a chicken tractor rather than a stationary coop so that we can move them to clean ground every day. On the other hand, my compost pile is extremely happy right now.

Raising Cornish cross chickens for the freezer

We lost just one chick, that first night that we moved them to the coop. Evidently something reached in through the 2x4" holes in the wire door of the coop and grabbed a chick. Its head was missing and the body had been pulled out through the wire.

When building a poultry coop or run, remember that chicken wire will keep birds in, but it won't keep all predators out. We used a heavier fencing mesh which was strong enough, but the holes were big; I've lined the door with 1x1" wire since this happened.

Our original plan was to get our chicks in the spring, but we moved it up on our calendar when we had an opportunity to buy them at a good price. The disadvantage of raising them in the fall is the weather: they need shelter from the cold. Fortunately it didn't get real cold until after they were gone.

The nice thing about raising Cornish cross birds are that they are ready to be butchered so soon. Your time investment is minimal, even compared to heritage chicken breeds, but especially compared to larger livestock. (Have you ever had Cornish hen at a nice restaurant? That's a young Cornish cross. You don't even have to wait till eight weeks if you don't want to.)

In comparison, we took our Rhode Island red cockerels to the processor when they were five months old; the largest dressed bird was 3 pounds, 14 ounces. The Cornish cross went to the processor at nine weeks old, and seven of the birds dressed out at over five pounds (the postal scale I use for soap making tops out at five pounds).

Will we do it again? Absolutely yes. Twenty-four birds will put two chicken dinners on our table for almost six months since the two of us can get at least two meals from one bird. Raising Cornish cross might be a good source of protein for your family as well.

You'll find all of my chick-raising and chicken-keeping posts here. Check it out for more 
information on both layers and meat birds.

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Raising Cornish cross chickens for the freezer

How to fill your freezer with organic chicken.

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  1. Thank you Kathi. We've been talk for years about raising meat birds. Your post inspires me more. And oh my gosh those babies are so stinking cute! :-)

    1. I'm happy that it is helping you decide, Michelle. Those new little chicks really are adorable. They aren't that cute when it's time for them to go, but we know what they ate and that they had a good life, were well-cared-for and had a humane end. That's what I want for the animals that are our food.

  2. My vet gave us some good advise on feeding these birds. he told us to feed free choice until they feather out.( which is a little over a week or two) then time how much they each in a 30 min period. You will have to do this a few times as they grow to keep up with the growth of the bird. feed twice a day. works like a charm and I have only lost one or two to bad legs or heart attacks in my 25 yrs of raising them.

  3. This post contains so much great advice! We have raised the jumbo cross many, many times and everything you say is absolutely correct! We ordered 60 this year, lost 2 as chicks and 1 later on. My husband works manufacturing and is very handy at assembly and he built a chicken plucker. He got the directions from Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker - it's awesome! I just roasted one of our chickens for Sunday, had chicken over rice last night and today goes the carcass and chicken soup. It's the BEST! Thanks for sharing your experience with the breed!

    1. Thank you, Dicky Bird! I've told that the Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker is pretty easy to build, does your husband agree? The plans have been around for several years so it must be worthwhile.

      I do love this breed (or hybrid) and if my goal is to fill our freezer, this is the way I'll go. The Rhode Island reds we raised and processed were free, so it was worth the trouble, but if I had a choice I'd definitely go with the Cornish cross.

  4. Great info here..thanks! We plan to raise these birds twice a year to fill our freezer, along with separately raising our egg hens. We have heard that it is necessary to keep the birds separate as they do not get along well, and bringing in new chicks every 6 months may bring disease to the egg layers. What is your thought about that? Also, we will probably just skin the birds, rather than pluck, because it is more healthy. That being said; how do you prepare your birds for the freezer? Thanks again. Any info I can get before we dive into raising meat birds will be greatly appreciated!

    1. Good questions, Vickie. I think that raising Cornish cross is a cost-effective and time-effective way to fill the freezer. For the two of us, we'll get 2-3 meals from one bird, plus making stock from the bones. That's a lot of food.

      I agree about keeping your meat chicks separate from your egg layers. Besides the possibility of exposing your layers to disease, the two kinds eat differently and grow at different rates. If you have both kinds as chicks, your laying chicks will be soon pushed away from the feeders by the larger chicks.

      I'm hoping to have a chicken tractor the next time we bring in meat chicks (after they graduate from the brooder, of course). I think that will be the easiest way to keep them clean.

      We took ours to a processor and got them back in shrink-wrapped plastic bags. I plan to can a lot of it so we're not completely dependent on the freezer. Plus I'll be canning the chicken stock I'll make from the bones.

      I'm always happy to answer questions so if you think of anything that needs clarifying, please ask.

  5. I enjoyed reading through your article, Kathi. I loved having layers when we lived in the country but never did try raising meat chickens. If ever we get back to the farm, I'll be looking you up for advice!

    1. Hope you make it back to the farm someday, Linda.

  6. Good description of raising meat chickens! I've done this almost every year since we moved to our homestead and their appetites never cease to amaze me. I hav e10 in the brooder right now. I plan to do another batch in the fall...ordering them to come in the middle of August when it is warm, but processing them when the temps cool down.

    Saw your post on the Simple Homestead Hop this morning!

    1. I don't think I've ever seen something EAT like these birds!


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