10 Things to Consider Before Getting Cornish Cross Chickens (Broilers)

What to consider before getting Cornish cross chickens.

If the desire to be more self-sufficient has you thinking about raising meat birds, you're not alone. Hatcheries have had trouble keeping up with the demand for meat birds this spring, and a clerk at the local feed store said they are having trouble keeping "anything chicken" in stock.

We've raised meat chickens before, both Rhode Island red chickens - a dual purpose breed for both the table and for egg-laying - and Cornish cross chickens, a breed developed especially for the freezer. (You can read my comparison of raising Cornish Cross chicks and heritage breeds here.)

In this article I'm going to tell you the truth about Cornish cross chicks and offer some things you should consider before you decide to get some chicks to raise for your own freezer.

This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure here.

If you ultimately decide against raising these bred-for-the-freezer birds, I'll have some suggestions for alternatives at the end of this post.

What to consider before raising Cornish cross chickens

What you should consider before getting Cornish Rock cross chickens.

1. Where will you get your chicks? Will you buy them from the feed store (ask a store clerk when they will receive their shipments) or will you order your chicks from a hatchery?

Before getting Cornish Rock cross chickens, think about these 8 things. From questions to breed-specific truths, this article will prepare you to raise meat birds

2. Cornish cross broiler chickens are fast-growing - and I do mean fast! In just 8-10 weeks they'll be ready to process. Yes, really. When you look at those little yellow chicks you'll think it's impossible, but it really is true.

Eventually your chickens will need to be butchered, so what's your plan? Will you take them to a processor, have a friend do it, or butcher them yourself?

Ask around to see if there is a processor in your area, and if so, make an appointment as soon as you get your chicks. You can't just show up at their door, or even call the day before; they'll need several weeks' notice.

If you need to drive a distance to the processor, you will likely need to make two trips, one to drop off your chickens and another to pick them up when ready.

Ask how much it will cost to process your chickens. You can choose between whole birds or having them halved or quartered. Each cut adds more to the price. You might need to pay for ice. You may need to bring insulated coolers with you when you drop off the broilers, or when you pick them up.

How will you transport your birds to the processor, if you plan to use one? A few birds can be moved in a large dog crate, but if you have fifty birds, how will you move them?

3. If you plan to do the butchering yourself, what equipment will you need? Will you purchase it all or can you borrow from friends?

4. How much freezer space do you have available?

What you need to know about Cornish Cross chickens.

5. Where will you keep your chickens? They don't need much space when they're tiny, but as I said, they grow fast. Here's what they'll need in the brooder.

Once they leave the brooder you'll need a large area for them. Remember, they grow very quickly and will be much larger in just a few weeks. Don't underestimate how much space they'll need.

You can find all your Poultry Essentials at TractorSupply.com.

Cornish cross - like any other breed of chicken - need to be kept safe from dogs and from wild predators. They are large and clumsy, and they don't run away from predators quickly. Basically they are "sitting ducks." Be sure to provide safe quarters for them.

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6. Meat birds eat a lot. A lot. Our fifty birds, at six weeks of age, are going through two 50-pound bags of feed per week. That will continue to increase as they get larger. Their high-protein feed is more expensive than other chicken feeds. Be sure to budget for their feed.

It's a myth that raising your own meat will be cheaper than buying it at the grocery store. Because you want to raise healthy, organic food for your family, you want to provide your animals with healthy, organic food too. It's more expensive than buying cheap feed, but that's ok because our goal is healthy food, right? Especially when you might be concerned with food shortages in the future.

Letting chickens free range or using a "chicken tractor" that you move around the yard will cut your feed cost a bit, but Cornish cross meat birds don't like to move around much and prefer to sit in front of the feeder and eat.

You'll need enough feeders so that all of the broilers will be able to reach the feed. Since Cornish cross like to sit in front of the feeders, make sure all of the birds have ample access to food.

I use the large metal feeder shown in the photos. Anything smaller would need to be refilled multiple times a day.

What you need to know about Cornish Rock cross chickens

7. Cornish cross drink a lot of water, more than my laying hens ever have. In our hot summer weather our meat birds are drinking over five gallons of water per day.  Always have cool water available for them.

Like the large metal feeder, I use large waterers. I use a 5-gallon and a 3-gallon waterer; anything less would need to be refilled too often. I recommend a waterer that you can fill from the top rather than one you have to turn over to fill.

To fill a top-fill plastic waterer, remove the little black cap near the top and use it to cover the hole in the drinking tray where the water comes out. Now you can remove the big screw-top without the water running out the bottom. After filling, remember to move the little black cap so water can fill the drinking tray.

8. Cornish cross also poop a lot. That makes sense though, right? If something eats a lot and drinks a lot, it will also poop a lot. That means they smell. 

Cleanliness is important to keep down the odor, but also to keep them clean and cool. Their manure is HOT, and as that manure sits on the floor of the coop it generates heat under the birds. Keeping their quarters clean will help to keep the temperature down in their shed or coop, and will keep them clean too. We're raising food here, we don't want them sitting in filth.

So plan on cleaning the coop completely at least once every week. I use shavings as bedding, and the shavings and manure are easy to scoop up in layers using my stable fork. But it's work, I won't lie. I add the used bedding to the middle of my compost pile every week, which is even more physical labor. 

In between cleanings, be sure to add more shavings or other bedding to help absorb the moisture of their droppings. This will help keep down the odor as well as help keep them clean.

Before you decide to raise meat chickens, read these 8 things you should consider.

9. Cornish cross chickens are known to have heart problems and leg issues. They get so big so fast that there's a strain on their legs, and heart attacks aren't uncommon. 

It can be hard to keep meat birds alive longer than 10-12 weeks because of those heart and leg issues. (Reminder: make your butchering plans early!)

10. You'll need to keep your chickens warm - or cool. Timing is important, and that was really brought home to me this year.

We've always purchased our chicks in late summer, when the weather was hot and keeping the brooder warm while they were little wasn't an issue. The weather would cool down as they matured, and we'd have them processed in the fall. 

This year we bought our chicks in the spring. We had to use a heat lamp on the brooder; we lost two chicks because it was cold. When we moved them to the shed our weather turned very hot and keeping them cool enough has been a real issue. 

We used a large, powerful fan to keep the air moving around them, but after losing three to the heat, we moved an extra window air conditioner to the shed to keep them cool. So take your weather into consideration - it's much easier to work with nature than against it.

Also, don't plan on going on vacation when you are raising meat birds! They need constant monitoring - food, water, weather and safety - so it's better to plan your vacation around your chickens.

Is the Cornish Cross breed genetically engineered? (GMO)

Some people think that Cornish cross chickens are genetically engineered; I've even heard them called "frankenbirds."

But they are not genetically engineered. The original Cornish cross chickens were a cross between a Cornish chicken and a white rock chicken. They are also called "Cornish Rock cross" or "Cornish Rock" chickens. Those first chicks grew so fast and so heavy that farmers began to breed selectively for those traits. 

Chickens - even heritage breeds - mature fast compared to other livestock. You can quickly see the results of selective chicken breeding. In comparison, it takes years to see the results of breeding cows, pigs, horses or other livestock. But you can see the results of a particular breeding in chickens in just months.

8 things to consider before you decide to raise Cornish cross chickens.

If you decide that the fast-growing Cornish cross aren't the birds for you - if you prefer slower-growing food, or want to raise a heritage breed and keep the females as laying hens and process the extra cockerels - there are alternatives. Freedom Rangers and Red Rangers are slower-growing but still bred for the table, for instance. 

Look at online hatcheries for their offerings, which often have the hatchery's proprietary name instead of "Cornish Cross." Slower-growing breeds are often red-feathered rather than white.

McMurray Hatchery, for instance, offers several white Cornish variations as well as a couple of alternatives such as the "ginger broiler." Some of the breeds listed on their "meat birds" page are actually dual purpose birds, but others are truly bred for the frying pan.

Ten things you must consider before deciding to raise Cornish Cross broiler chicks.

But on the other hand, Cornish cross chickens are fast to raise, convert feed to meat well, and taste really good. The Rhode Island red cockerels that we had processed a few years ago took five months to raise, which means they ate more feed and were more work, the texture of the meat was tougher and rather stringy, and the finished birds weighed significantly less than our Cornish cross did.

But we all have freedom of choice, so choose which works best for you. And no, you don't need to raise fifty birds at one time! Buy six or ten or twenty-five chicks if that works best for you.

You'll find more information on raising Cornish cross meat birds and how I feed mine here: Raising Cornish cross birds for the freezer -- and you'll find all of my articles on raising chicks and chickens as well as my chicken FAQs here.

Before you decide to raise meat birds, consider these 8 things. Be prepared for the reality of raising meat birds.

Are you considering raising Cornish Rock cross chickens? These 8 things might change your mind. Here's what you need to know before raising meat birds.

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  1. So much good information here for people interested in getting started with meat chickens. We have 20 Western Rustic chicks that we got shipped up here from a hatchery near Edmonton, Alberta. We are amazed at how fast they're growing! Found you on the Farm Fresh Tuesday blog hop. :)

    1. I hope your birds are growing well, Sarita. They do grow so fast, even the "slower growing" ones.

  2. This is a truly honest post that I hope people will read before diving into raising Cornish Cross (Rock) Meat birds.
    Thanks for sharing with us at Farm Fresh Tuesdays Blog Hop!
    Your post is one of my features at this week's hop! Be sure to stop by and say hi!

    Melissa | Little Frugal Homestead

  3. We raised Cornish Crosses for a while and no longer do for exactly the reasons you've laid out. They were so pitiful that in a way it felt wrong... and we don't usually think that way about what we raise to eat. Thanks for sharing this with us at the Homestead Blog Hop, it's such good info, I hope many people will read it!

    1. Thank you, Ann. Raising these birds is fast but not easy or cheap. There's a lot of labor and feed involved. I want folks to know that ahead of time.


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