Backyard chicken keeping is an increasingly popular hobby that is experiencing a resurgence, and the Cornish Cross chicken is on the rise in popularity. More and more cities are rolling back ordinances that prevent keeping chickens on your property, leading to an uptick in interest. Meat chickens are also becoming increasingly popular as the cost of food, meat and eggs in particular, continues to rise and more people become concerned about what exactly is in their meat.
One of the types of chickens I personally raise for meat is the Cornish Cross chicken. It grows fast, produces good meat, is good-natured overall, and is one of my favorites. Let’s do a deep dive on this chicken.
What is a cornish cross chicken?
A Cornish Cross chicken, sometimes called a broiler chicken, is a cross between a Cornish chicken and a Plymouth Rock chicken. This makes it a hybrid. There is some misinformation about this breed of chicken being genetically modified in a laboratory setting – rest assured, it is not. It is produced by crossing two established, heritage breeds of chicken.
- Other names: Broiler, Cornish Rock
- Appearance: Large-bodied, white
- Temperament: Docile
- Noise: Quiet
- Purpose: Meat
- Maturity: 6-8 weeks until processing
- Size: Large
- Weight: 5-6 lbs at 6-8 weeks
This hybrid chicken is extremely docile, especially if you associate your presence with the introduction of yummy snacks. Any time I visit my Cornish Cross chickens, I bring treats with me. It helps reinforce their laid back, friendly nature. Even though these are not friend birds, it’s good to treat them well and build that kind of relationship.
At 6-8 weeks, your broiler chickens will be ready to process. At this age, your chickens should weigh 5-6 pounds. I’ve heard of some letting their chickens go to 12-14 weeks in order to get them to 10 or more pounds, but the return on your investment is diminished after about 8 weeks as the feed cost to meat production ratio goes down.
Cornish Cross chickens are an all-white chicken that quickly grows to around 6 pounds after 8 weeks. It is a stout, plump, and meaty bird.
Coop and run
Chickens tend to pick up bad behaviors when their coop and run aren’t up to their standards, so making sure you have the appropriate coop and run for your Cornish Cross chickens is vitally important.
This breed likes to have plenty of coop and run space to go about the business of being a good chicken, but generally, they stick relatively close to wherever their food source is. These chickens grow fast and have big appetites. Allowing them to free range will help reduce the cost of raising each bird.
Chicken runs and coops should be kept properly cleaned out and provided with fresh straw regularly. Nest boxes are not needed for Cornish Cross chickens, as they will be processed before their egg-laying age.
How long do Cornish Cross chickens live?
There is some debate about this. Some people with experience raising Cornish Cross chickens argue that, under the right care, a broiler chicken can live 5-8 years, the same as any other chicken. This might be true in some extreme circumstances, but you have to consider the animal’s quality of life. It’s alive, but is it in pain? Is it comfortable? Is it enjoying its life?
It’s a hard truth to face, but these birds are meat birds, and the way they grow seals their fate from the moment they hatch. Cornish Cross chickens should probably be processed between 6 and 12 weeks of age.
Common Cornish Cross chicken problems
The biggest breed-specific issue that I’ve experienced with Cornish Cross chickens, and this seems to be backed by the experience of other meat bird raisers, is their size. Their rapid growth puts a great deal of strain on the bird’s organ and skeletal systems. Periodically, you’ll have a Cornish Cross chick that just fails to thrive. It’s unfortunate when it happens, and they always get a proper burial.
Chickens are susceptible to a number of viral illnesses, including Marek’s disease, avian flu, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, and bronchitis. Some of these conditions are more common than others. Signs of a viral infection among your chickens include sneezing, coughing, reduced egg production, reduced eating, lethargy, discharge around the eyes and sinuses, sores, and paralysis in the case of Newcastle disease.
Most chicks acquired from a reputable breeder or hatchery are vaccinated against the more common viral infections, like Marek’s. Chicks acquired from smaller-scale sellers may not be vaccinated. Always ask if your chicks have been vaccinated and what they’re vaccinated for.
Bacterial infections are a real concern for chickens, as coops, runs, and the outdoors, in general, can be havens for bacteria. The most common bacterial infections for chickens are salmonellosis and colibacillosis. These infections can be fast spreading and infect entire flocks.
Signs your chickens may be struggling with a bacterial infection include reduced egg laying, breathing problems, reduced appetite, and death. Salmonellosis doesn’t always present symptoms in chickens.
The two most common types of fungal diseases are brooder pneumonia and ringworm. Ringworm can be spread to humans as well, so if you suspect your chickens have ringworm, handle them carefully and wash your hands and clothes immediately.
Brooder pneumonia tends to only infect young chicks spending their first few weeks in a brooder. Ringworm usually clears up on its own with time. Keeping brooders and coops clean is key to avoiding these fungal infections.
Like most of our pets, chickens can experience parasitic infections. Worms, ticks, lice, and mites are some of the more common ones. Symptoms of these parasites include loss of appetite, lethargy, skin irritation, and unexpected loss of feathers outside of normal molting.
Be wary of used coops. Always disinfect them thoroughly before introducing your chickens. Replace coop bedding often and periodically disinfect chicken coops to reduce the presence of parasites.
It can be a rough and tumble life for chickens as they go about establishing pecking orders and foraging for food. Injuries, particularly foot injuries, aren’t uncommon. Most surface-level injuries will clear up on their own, but foot injuries are particularly concerning as the chickens’ talons tend to come into contact with their own manure as well as other pathogens in the soil and on the ground.
Common signs of a foot injury are difficulty walking or putting weight on the foot as well as lethargy. In the case of bumblefoot, a type of staph infection, both the chickens’ digits and sometimes entire feet can become swollen with pus-filled abscesses. Foot injuries should be treated and bandaged as soon as they are noticed.
Pasty butt, sometimes called pasty vent, is a fairly common condition that afflicts chicks. It can quickly become a life-threatening issue if not addressed. Pasty vent tends to be caused by stress and dehydration. It occurs when thick stools block the chick’s vent, preventing it from passing droppings.
Eventually, the chick will become ill and refuse to eat. Signs of pasty butt include smaller chick size and a pasty mat of droppings over the vent. This condition is easily treated by cleaning the affected area and removing the stuck droppings.
You can’t breed your own Cornish Cross chickens
If you’ve raised this type of chicken for meat, chances are that you’re hooked. They are ready to be processed so fast, they’re easy to get ready for the freezer, and their meat is tender and delicious. You might be thinking that you want to breed these chickens so you can have a sustainable source. Sadly, I have to tell you, this isn’t possible.
If you even managed to get a hen and a rooster to live long enough to successfully lay eggs, the chicks they produce wouldn’t be true Cornish Crosses. They will hatch out some random combination of the grandparent birds: a Cornish chicken and a Plymouth Rock chicken. You might get some luck with a few of them being fast growers like their parents, it’s not likely.
You can attempt to cross your own Cornish chickens and a Plymouth Rock chickens, but it isn’t terribly likely that you’ll get true Cornish Cross chickens that grow as fast and efficiently as what you’d get from a hatchery. The truth is, this hybrid has been worked on and perfected for decades and is a tightly kept secret. Your best bet is to find them at a good price from a hatchery.
What to feed Cornish Cross chickens
Up until you process them, your Cornish Cross chicks should be fed a commercial meat chicken feed with 22% protein. This added protein will help your young chicks grow and develop into healthy birds. Chickens enjoy being put out to pasture where they can eat grass, bugs, and other plants. They will also gladly eat some fruits, vegetables, grains, and leafy greens. Free-ranging your birds will also cut down significantly on your feed costs.
For more information, check out our comprehensive guide on what foods chickens can and cannot eat.