Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cornish Cross and turkeys- our first attempt

Cornish Cross is a chicken breed that has been specially selected to grow very quickly. It is the chicken you buy in the grocery store.

Last year, our first batch of chickens were dual purpose birds, good at free ranging, and laying eggs as well as a reasonable meat bird. The roosters went in the freezer, but it took around 12 weeks to get to a reasonable weight, and the meat was on the tough side because of their age. Fine for canning, stews, and the like, but not as good for frying or roasting. The hens are still doing fine with egg production, so this year we decided to just get some meat birds, and get it over quickly.

Cornish Cross are known for their lethargic, unchickenlike behavior, as well as the fast weight gains, and they did not disappoint. In a way it was comical, as they lay around a lot, waiting for meal time, and they never did take to the roost I provided.

My wife and I butchered the 25 cockerels at the end of eight weeks, when live weights reached six to seven pounds.

I was careful to only feed them per the instructions with the feed, or they would have had leg problems and be prone to heart attacks. I actually weighed the feed each day, and the feed trough was picked clean every single time by the next meal. Our layers never do completely clean up the feed, and are constantly out foraging, and have used the roost from a very young age.

The chickens are tasty and tender, and we may well do them again, while keeping our foraging layers going as well. Probably next year the by then "old" hens will be bound for the stew pot.

If anything, turkeys are even dumber than the Cornish Cross. We raised the broad breasted bronze. WE kept them separate from the chickens till they were around eight weeks old, having heard about black head and coccidiosis.  They seemed to have more of a flocking instinct than chickens, and like to go hang out with the hens, or follow where the rooster leads. We might try a heritage breed next year.

I butchered our four turkeys around three weeks ago. This was another first, as I had never done turkeys before. Found out our scalding pot was just big enough for a turkey. We got lucky on that, as I hadn't thought about turkeys when selecting it. The tom weighed in at 22 pounds (10kg).


  1. Hi Steve,

    We've been raising Cornish Cross and turkeys for over 25 years. Limiting feed is the key to less health issues for sure. When we first started we were advised to feed free choice and leave lights on all night - wow were we ignorant. Still we didn't have as many health issues then as later on so I think the genetics have changed over time. After brooding indoors for 4 weeks they go into a large chicken tractor which also has a door so they can forage further. As you know they don't tend to move too much so we put the feed or at least some of it outside, weather permitting, to force them to move. Another practice that has worked well to get them moving is to cut up extra cukes and zucchini and throw it to them before their feed when they are really hungry. They sure move then.

    I used to keep my turkeys and chickens separate but in recent years I get the turkeys and meat chicks at the same time and brood together as sometimes there isn't enough room to separate everyone. Sometimes I put the poults out in the turkey tractor for a time as well. We had a hawk lurking this year and the poults needed to get out so putting them with the chickens worked well. I didn't open the door to the tractor until I was sure the hawk had moved on. He/she got a turkey and meat chick before I got them out to the tractor. Those white bodies were like the dinner bell. I'm aware there's a risk putting them together but I don't think it's much and so far so good.


    1. Hi Margaret:
      I think we'll do Cornish cross again next year, as they are so quick to get finished with and in the freezer. Maybe this time I'll try putting them in the same brooder, but I have been told that the poults need a different, higher protein starter than the chickens. What has your experience been?

      We've been lucky to have low predator pressure, so we free ranged the turkeys along with our laying hens. I still haven't built a tractor. For the cornish, we just set up an area with electronet, and they had plenty of room.

    2. I think you're right but we just feed the meat chick starter and all has worked out fine. When we raised our buckeyes for meat we used game bird starter on a neighbor's advice and I think that is higher than meat bird starter. Btw I'm sort of a neighbor as I live just south of the Wisconsin border about 75 miles northwest of Chicago.


  2. Hi Steve,

    Well done and top work! Total respect for raising and processing your birds.

    Wow, 12 weeks is pretty fast growth, but I have no experience with that breed. You may laugh, but two of my chickens are about six and half years now and show no signs of slowing down. I reckon, their meat would be very tough now...



    1. Hi Chris:
      Actually, our Black Australorps were ready last year after 12 weeks on full feed, but these Cornish this year were at weight in 9 weeks with rationed feeding!

      My wife and I are still in discussion as to the fate of our layers once they are no longer laying eggs. I am ready to pressure cook and can when it is time, but she has become a bit attached to them.

      We will of course continue to add to the flock each year as needed. I don't think I mentioned it, but two hens went broody this spring, so we got seven more pullets added to the flock this summer for "free".