The Case for Cornish Cross

Reader Contribution by Gavin Dinnel
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Today’s post is going to be on a controversial subject. The dreaded Cornish Cross chicken; this chicken has been called a Frankenbird, genetically modified and a freak of nature. I know that I won’t change everyone’s minds but I’m hoping I can change a couple.

The Cornish Cross is what is considered a hybrid. It is the result of decades of specific breeding that has brought about the current meat chicken that we are all familiar with. This specific breeding is no different than the hybrid tomatoes you buy at the nursery, or the commercial breeds of pigs that have been selected for their length and quickness of growth. There is no genetic modification at work here, only selective breeding.

The reason that many eschew the Cornish Cross, is that it doesn’t “act” like the backyard chickens we are used to. Those chickens are slow growing, better foraging and look prettier. I’ll definitely agree with all those points, but we must keep in mind that we are raising meat chickens and not laying chickens.

Cornish Cross also require more management. A chicken tractor that can be moved at least daily will help keep chickens clean and provide them more grass and bugs to eat. Chicks must be monitored often to make sure that they are kept sufficiently warm or cool as necessary. Feed should be removed for periods of time to prevent overeating and encourage foraging.

If you are willing to manage these birds properly, you will be rewarded with a quick growing bird that is healthy, hardy and most importantly, tasty.

We recently took in our first batch of Cornish Cross to the processor. We ordered birds from a local hatchery, Jenks out of Tangent, OR. We purchased 30 birds and were shipped 32 (as is normal practice). All 32 arrived safe and sound and were immediately placed in the chicken tractor on pasture! That is unheard of on most farms!! Most brooding operations are conducted in buildings, on a hard surface covered with wood shavings. We wanted our birds to be on grass from the very first day and to prove that these Cornish Cross could be raised outside from the very beginning.

Our chicks were surrounded by a draft guard for the first week of their lives, and then after had the whole run of the chicken tractor. We would move the tractor as necessary to provide fresh grass and a clean environment. Our birds were not vaccinated, nor were they on medicated feed at any point in their life. We had one preventable loss, as I accidentally stepped on one while changing out feed.  That means that there were no losses due to health, weather or management.

Our chickens loved when I moved the chicken tractor. They were all at the front waiting for that fresh grass to eat. I’ve seen them catch and eat bugs; properly raised these chickens thrived.

What did that all get us? Those 31 chickens, at 7 weeks of age, provided us with 101 pounds of meat to put in our freezer. That is an average of 3.26 lbs per bird at just 7 weeks of age! And what did that cost us? We fed them non-GMO feed, and of course all the grass and bugs they could catch, and our final cost was $3.62/lb. I challenge you to find farm raised, non-GMO fed chicken at a cheaper price. In our area, the cheapest you can find for all that is $5.00/lb.

If you are willing to put a little work into the Cornish Cross, they are willing to put some meat in your freezer. I definitely recommend raising them for yourself.

As always, please visit us on Facebook at Dinner Time Farm. We would love to hear from you!

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