A big part of a homesteading lifestyle is the ability to provide food for one’s family. This comes in a variety of methods, from growing and raising your own to hunting and foraging. Possibly purchasing from a farmers’ market or directly from a local farm. While many animals require a minimum amount of land that may be out of reach for beginner or urban homesteaders, meat birds are a great starting point. Meat birds require a minimum amount of space, they are easy to process yourself, and are a short-term project that takes a minimal time commitment. Raising Cornish cross chickens is one of my favorite projects on the homestead.
Homestead Anywhere eBook
This article first appeared in the Homestead Anywhere eBook that I had the privilege of being a part of. This amazing project was a collaboration among 16 bloggers from around the world. it includes a forward from Lisa Bass from Farmhouse on Boone. Lisa is our mentor in the Create Your Blog Dream course that we are all students of.
This eBook was created for those curious about homesteading, the homesteading dreamer, for those who are building an urban homestead right where they are, or for those who are already living the homesteading dream. The complete Homestead Anywhere eBook is available for instant download in the Kowalski Mountain Subscriber’s Library. If you are already a member, use the password available in the latest newsletter and access it anytime. Not a member, join now and get your FREE copy of this amazing resource that provides plenty of encouragement and information to get you started on your own homesteading journey.
Raising Cornish Cross Chickens
On our homestead, we raise Cornish Cross Broilers for our primary meat birds. This hybrid breed is a cross between Cornish and White Plymouth Rocks however the specific breeding has been closely guarded. Due to the highly classified specifics regarding these birds’ breeding, the only means of raising Cornish cross chickens is to purchase the chicks from hatcheries or farm stores.
Hybrid breeds are very different than genetic modification. Genetic modification refers to an altering of the genetic sequences in a lab environment. Hybrid breeds are simply animal husbandry. Birds with very specific traits have been bred with a different breed of chickens also with very specific traits. The offspring accentuate the desired traits. Through careful, selective breeding over decades, the Cornish Crosses that we raise today has been developed.
We prefer raising Cornish Cross chickens for their fast growth rate, ease of butchering, and the quality of the meat. The chicken is meaty, tender, and moist. We processed a few roosters the same day we processed the Cornish Cross Broilers and the comparison is amazing!
What to Expect?
Cornish Cross broilers are husky little fluffballs when you first purchase the day-old chicks at your local feed store. These baby chicks can also be shipped to your local post office straight from the hatchery. As they grow, they are heavy birds with broad breasts and thick legs that are known for their predominantly white meat. They have been bred specifically for their fast growth, gaining about a pound a week. Cornish Cross birds can be ready to harvest in as little as 6 weeks of age! They are extremely docile; they don’t fly and can easily be contained. Due to their large size, they are rather clumsy and slow-moving. Homesteaders need to ensure a space where they are protected from predators as they are extremely vulnerable on their own.
We will be getting a new batch of Cornish Cross broilers in just a few weeks. This year we ordered our birds were from Myers Hatchery. We were able to get a really good price by ordering a larger number of birds. While we don’t need as many chickens as we ordered, some of our family members agreed to go in with us to get the birds at a better price. I can hardly wait to see the box of FIFTY fluffy little chicks!
Housing Your Broilers
Cornish Cross broilers need 2 to 3 square feet of space per bird. The space requirements are minimal enough that even urban homesteaders are raising Cornish cross chickens in their backyard. Many homesteaders prefer to raise broilers in a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is simply a movable pen that can be moved every day to every few days to a new area. This provides the birds a clean area with fresh grass. While they aren’t great foragers, the green space makes a huge difference in cleanliness.
Cornish Cross chicks are messy! They are the laziest and messiest chickens we have ever had. While we keep most of our chicks inside for several weeks, they were so messy and smelly that they were evicted outside after only one night. They require frequent cleanings to keep a suitable environment for healthy chicks. If you are unable to move their chicken coop, like us, they need to be cleaned at least once daily, turning the soil under to maintain a clean area. Our broilers were the first chickens I have ever given a bath and they got several!
Broilers don’t require a roost, even when provided with a low roost (a post on the ground) they did not use it. They are prone to leg problems and should never be expected to jump down from even a low platform.
Feeding Your Broilers
Broilers thrive on high protein grower feed typically sold for meat/ game birds. Depending on what we can get, our birds eat 27% to 28% high protein grain. Many homesteaders prefer organic feed, but we find it extremely expensive. We free-fed our birds for one week only.
After the first week, these birds are placed on an eating regimen. 12 hours on with full access to grain and 12 hours off. These birds are bred for rapid growth, and that growth rate needs fuel. In the image above, you can see the sparsely feathered birds. These chickens grow so fast, their feathers can’t keep up! They frequently looked a tad bit bald, as their feathers weren’t growing fast enough to keep them covered.
Unfortunately, when raising cornish cross chickens, they will eat themselves literally to death if not monitored. Our last batch of 32 broilers ate a whopping 530 pounds of high protein grain in 10 weeks. They equally drink a lot of fresh water. We try to provide multiple feeding and water sources to allow the bird’s room to spread out to eat.
Cornish Cross broilers aren’t foragers. My experience is that birds that are given more than adequate space seem to be a bit cleaner, however, they aren’t particularly interested in foraging for food. They are quite content to sit in front of the feeder and eat until their little heart’s content.
Processing the Harvest
Cornish Cross broilers are advertised to be ready for processing in as little as 6 weeks. They gain approximately 1 pound a week. We weighed a sampling of our birds every week. We would weigh a few of the larger ones and then a few of the smaller ones and kept track of their growth.
Most homesteaders keep broilers for about 8 weeks. We weighed our birds at 8 weeks old and butchered any birds that weighed a minimum of 8 pounds. We butchered most of the roosters and a few hens at that 8-week mark. The rest we opted to give a bit more growing time and butchered at 10 weeks. Our birds all dressed out at an average weight of 6 pounds or better, some almost 9 pounds!
When raising Cornish Cross chickens, it’s important to butcher these birds timely. They were bred specifically for the purpose of meat production. Due to their breeding and fast growth rate, they will die if not butchered timely. They are prone to health problems. Including leg injuries and heart problems due to their fast growth which causes a strain on their body for the long term. Of the 32 we raised, we had only one fail to thrive due to leg issues. Her legs gave out and she could no longer get up to feed. We opted to butcher her early rather than let her suffer.
Butchering Process Overview
Butchering poultry is very easy and can be done at home. These birds are particularly easy to butcher which is a factor in why we choose this breed of meat birds. When processing enough chicken for a years’ worth of meat at a time, ease of butchering should be a factor to consider when choosing a breed. We strongly believe in the humane handling of all our meat animals and treat them with respect even after dispatch.
Once dispatched the bird is submerged in hot water. The hot water loosens the feathers and makes them easier to pluck. While I have always hand-plucked our poultry, a plucking machine is worth every penny. Consider it a worthy investment for your homestead! The plucking machine can do in seconds what takes me about 15 minutes for a single bird. With either method, the scalding process is extremely important for the ease of plucking.
The next step includes the removal of the head, feet, internal organs, and oil gland found at the base of the tail. This process is quite simple. Cornish Cross broilers seem easier to butcher than most birds. The tissue that holds the organs in place is easily separated and makes for easy removal of the organs. The birds’ large body is easy to access due to their large stature. Many homesteaders keep the chicken feet and use them to make a collagen-rich broth that can be canned.
Once the animal is butchered, the meat should be quickly cooled and then frozen for later use. Many homesteaders like to use specially designed bags for a whole chicken that when placed in hot water shrink to fit the birds. We have found that 2-gallon zip lock bags or vacuum sealers are also good options.
Want to Learn More?
To read more about chicken butchering, see the full post on butchering day when we processed the last batch of meat birds.
While Cornish Cross broilers are one of the top-selling meat birds in the United States, there are other options. Some homesteaders prefer other breeds of meat birds for a variety of reasons.
There are many other hybrid breeds that can be raised specifically for meat. Like the Cornish Cross, these birds also need to be purchased from a hatchery to raise the hybrid-specific birds. Freedom Rangers also known as Red Rangers are an example of another popular hybrid breed of meat birds.
Other homesteaders prefer to raise only heritage breeds. Heritage breeds of chickens can be raised right on the homestead, from hatching the chicks through the butchering process. There are many different breeds available to choose from. Jersey Giants are an example of a popular heritage breed of meat chickens. They aren’t known for their quality egg production but remain true to their heritage breeding.
Still some homesteaders like a good dual-purpose bird that can be raised for both eggs and meat production. Leghorns would be an example of a dual-purpose bird. These birds can be raised for their excellent egg production and are stocky enough to produce quality birds raised for the purpose of meat.
Home Grown Goodness for your Family
Homesteaders raise and grow their own food for a variety of reasons. As standards for commercially grown meat have resulted in increased use of antibiotics and hormones in our food and questionable standards of humane care. More and more people are looking at how they can provide their families with quality meats.
Raising meat birds is affordable and easy for even the newest homesteader. They can be raised in a short amount of time. They require little space and can easily be processed right in your backyard. A freezer full of home-grown meat is a deeply satisfying feeling. A single broiler, netting 6 pounds of meat, is large enough for Philip and I to get approximately 4 meals from a single bird! That really allowed us to stretch our 32 broiler meat chickens to well over a year’s worth of meat. Raising meat birds can be a lot of work, but the satisfaction of knowing where your meat came from and exactly how it was raised makes it all worthwhile.
Join Us in the Journey
Our next batch of Cornish Cross Broilers is expected to be delivered the week of March 7th from Myers Hatchery. Chicks are shipped through the US Postal Service and will be delivered directly to our local post office. My mother-in-law, Joy Murphy, is partnering with us in this project. She will be communicating with the local post office and will pick up our chickens as soon as they arrive. I’m hoping shipping goes smoothly and they all arrive safe and in good health.
Once they arrive, they will be living in the outdoor chicken coop with a heat lamp. As they grow, they will be given access to the entire chicken yard. We hope that the wide-open space of the large yard will help with cleanliness. Be sure to follow along here on the blog and social media while we raise another batch of Cornish Cross Broilers.
Today’s post is part of a blog hop all about Homesteading. You’ll want to be sure to check out these posts about this month’s theme.
Felicia from FeliciaGraves.com shares all about frugal homesteading.
Julie Anne from Capturing Wonderland shares 7 homesteading skills you can learn now.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.