10 Things to Consider Before Raising Broilers (meat chickens)

What to consider before getting Cornish cross chickens.

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.

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 buy 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 have some alternative suggestions 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 buy your chicks? 

Will you buy them from the feed store 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. Who will butcher them?

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

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

Eventually your meat chickens will need to be butchered. So what's your plan? Will you take them to a process, 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 their door, and you'll probably need to make an 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 move them?

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.

What you need to know about Cornish Cross chickens.

5. Where will you raise your chickens?

They don't need much space when they are tiny. 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 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.

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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.

When your birds get larger, you should 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 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 chickens 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 each 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 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 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. 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.

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. 

In fact, 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, 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. 

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 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 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.

Cornish Cross broilers are a good choice

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. 

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.

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 with food shortages 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, right?

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. Give them the food they need, enough cool, fresh water, and good care. Make your investment count, and treat your birds humanely. 

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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  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.

  4. We experimented with meat birds just once, and decided we weren't cut out for it...

  5. I had red and black broilers here my first summer. Took a few weeks to find someone to show me the ropes on processing day (I was reluctant to do it based simply on YouTube videos.) They got processed about a month late. But I now do this myself, up to three any morning. Last fall I finally got Cornish (because they could be processed before winter set in). I prefer the broilers, as I am not a breast-enjoying person. So far, I'm only processing for myself and for houseguests. I did have one of the CC have a spontaneous death at age 7 weeks.

  6. Can you get them to breed and then put the eggs in an incubator to let them hatch? That way you can literally grow your own?

    1. Most Cornish cross will die before they are old enough to breed, they are just too heavy for their legs to support them or they'll have a heart attack. It's worth trying though if you want to.


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