10 Things to Consider Before Raising Cornish Cross Broilers

Several young Cornish Cross chickens in their coop.

Are you considering raising Cornish Cross broilers? In this article I'll tell you about Cornish Rock Cross meat birds and offer some things you should consider before you decide to buy some broiler chicks to raise for your own freezer.

Should you raise Cornish Cross chickens for meat?

If the desire to be more self-sufficient has you thinking about raising broiler chickens, you're not alone.

Raising chickens for meat has become quite popular in the past year or two, and hatcheries have had trouble keeping up with the demand for these meat birds.

We've raised chickens for meat before, both Rhode Island red chickens - which are 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.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase I might earn a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here for more info.

If you ultimately decide against raising this type of bred-for-the-freezer birds, I have some alternative suggestions at the end of this post.

What to consider before raising Cornish cross chickens

Day-old Cornish Cross chicks are balls of yellow fluff in the brooder lined with wood shavings.

1. Where will you buy your chicks? 

Will you buy them from the feed store or will you order your chicks from a hatchery?

By the way, Cornish Cross are usually sold as "straight run," which means they aren't separated by gender. Because they are ready for the freezer so quickly, it really doesn't matter whether they are pullets or cockerels. 

Young Cornish Cross chicks gathered around their metal feeder.
Not a dead chick! Simply stretched out to stay cool.

2. Who will butcher your chickens?

Cornish Cross broiler chickens are extremely fast-growing - and I do mean fast!

In just 8-10 weeks they'll be ready to butcher. I know that seems impossible when you look at those tiny yellow chicks, but it really is true.

And eventually your meat 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? You should make this decision ahead of time.

Before you buy your chicks, ask around to see if there is a processor in your area, and if so, call and make an appointment as soon as you get your chicks

You can't just show up at the processor's door without an appointment. In fact, you'll probably need to make that appointment several weeks in advance.

You'll probably need to make two trips to the processor - one to drop off your chickens and another to pick them up when they're ready.

When you call, ask how much it will cost to process your chickens. You can choose whether to have them halved or quartered, or left whole, or cut into pieces. Each cut adds more to the price.

You might need to pay for ice. You will also pay for the bags. Ask about all charges when you call.

How will you transport your broilers 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 transport them?

If you're in central/eastern Oklahoma, we highly recommend

3. If you plan to butcher them yourself, what equipment will you need? 

Will you purchase it all or can you borrow some items from friends?

This post from the Self-Sufficient HomeAcre will show you how to butcher your chickens on the cheap.

4. How much freezer space do you have available?

You'll be surprised how much freezer space 25 or 50 chickens will require.

Young white broiler chickens on a wood shavings floor, waiting to be fed.

5. Where will you raise your chickens?

They don't need much space when they are tiny. You'll need to keep them in a brooder - which can be as simple as a Rubbermaid tote - in order to keep them warm. Here's what chicks need in the brooder.

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

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.

You might be interested in this article on mobile chicken housing, also known as "chicken tractors." The mobile coop is moved around an area to provide clean ground, new grass and bugs for the chickens, while keeping them safe from predators.

You'll find 5 different styles for building a mobile chicken coop (aka chicken tractor) plus other coop types at the Easy Coops website.

Subscribe to The Acorn, Oak Hill Homestead's weekly-ish newsletter and get my ebook "How to Make Vinegar at Home for Pennies" for free.

6. What will you feed your meat chickens?

Meat birds eat a lot. Our fifty birds at six weeks of age are eating 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 feed. Be sure to budget for this expense.

You can keep costs down a bit though. Letting your meat chickens free range, or using a chicken tractor that you move around the yard will cut your feed costs a bit, but Cornish Cross chickens don't move around much and prefer to sit in front of the feeder and eat. 

And eat. And eat. And sit and wait until you refill the feeder so they can eat some more.

When your birds get larger, you can remove their feeder overnight to help keep them from gaining weight too fast. 

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 feeders shown in the photos. Anything smaller would need to be refilled multiple times a day.

A group of white Cornish Cross meat birds huddled around their metal feeder. Broiler chicks eat a great deal of feed each day and need fresh water in order to digest their food.

7. Cornish Cross chickens drink a lot of water

They drink much more than my laying hens ever have. In our hot summer weather our meat birds are drinking over five gallons of water each day. Always have cool water available for them.

Like the large metal feeder, I use large waterers. I use a 5-gallon waterer 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 chickens poop a lot

That makes sense though, right? If something eats a lot and drinks a lot, it will also poop a lot. But, this means that they smell. A lot.

Cleanliness is important to keep down the odor, but also to keep them clean and cool. Their manure is HOT, and because 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. After all, we're raising our family's food.

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, 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.

Cornish cross birds hang out around their feeder all day. It takes a lot of feed to maintain their fast weight gain.

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. 

In fact, it can be hard to keep meat birds alive much 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 late in the fall. 

This year we bought our chicks in the spring. We had to use a heat lamp on the brooder, and 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. 

They had access to a covered outside run, but Cornish Cross prefer to congregate around their feeders and wait for their next meal rather than go outside and walk around.

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.

If you decide not to raise Cornish Cross broilers

You might decide that the fast-growing Cornish cross aren't the birds for you. Perhaps 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. Many hatcheries offer Freedom Rangers and Red Rangers, which 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 sometimes red-feathered rather than white.

McMurray Hatchery, for instance, offers several white Cornish variations as well as a couple of alternatives such as the red-feathered "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.

Three partially-feathered Cornish Cross chicks in a coop with deep wood shavings as bedding.

Cornish Cross broilers are a good choice for the freezer

But on the other hand, Cornish cross chickens are fast to raise, convert feed to meat well, and taste really good. 

Many of our chicks were seven pounds and over after processing at nine weeks of age.

In comparison, the Rhode Island red cockerels that we 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 meat birds did.

But we all have freedom of choice, so choose which breed works best for you. 

Can you raise your own meat cheaper than buying it at the grocery store? 

In my opinion - and it's just my opinion - it costs us just as much or more money to raise our own meat chickens. But it's worth it to us.

If you're concerned about having access to food and want to have healthy meat for your family, raising it yourself means you will have food.

Healthy feed for your meat animals is more expensive than cheap feed, but that's ok because your goal is healthy food.

Broilers need high-protein feed because they grow so fast. Provide 20% or 18% protein feed for optimum growth.

If you're going to raise your own meat birds, make it worth the work and expense. Give them the food they need, plenty of cool, fresh water, and good care. Make your investment count, and treat your birds humanely. 

Three 11-week-old Cornish Cross chicks on a bed of wood shavings, near their red plastic waterer.

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.

And remember, there's no rule that says you have to raise fifty birds at one time. Buy six or ten or twenty-five chicks if that's what fits your plan.

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

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