Part of a homesteading lifestyle is working towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Harvesting and raising our own food is a part of that process. While we are living in a temporary living situation in the RV, our ability to produce a significant amount of food is limited, however, raising Cornish Cross Broilers for meat chicken is an easy project that can be done in a small amount of space even in a suburban neighborhood.
Here at the Florida house, we are blessed with a fair amount of space to have our container garden and room for our household animals. Not to mention all our vehicles, trailers, and stuff! However, it’s a portion of a lot, so it’s still a minimal amount of space when it comes to raising food for a year or more. When most people think about raising meat for food, they automatically think that a large amount of space is needed. With some animals that is true, however, Cornish cross chickens can be raised in a much smaller area. The minimum recommended space is 2 square feet per bird.
In fact, the coop and outdoor enclosure that we used for this year’s broiler chickens is larger than the coop we have used in the past. Ideally, I would love to use a chicken tractor that can be moved to ensure a clean space and fresh grass, but that was not an option. The best we could do raising our Cornish cross broilers was provide adequate space and keep it clean!
This year we ordered our cornish cross chicks directly from the hatchery. I selected Myer’s Poultry located in Pennsylvania. We partnered with my mother-in-law, Joy Murphy, and ordered 50 chicks to get a discount. At the time of purchase, they were about a dollar cheaper than other hatcheries per bird. We did opt to have our chicks treated for coccidiosis at the time of purchase which cost an additional 20 cents per bird. In the video, you will see us reference the pink on their heads. I called and it was the marking system used at Myer’s Poultry to determine that the chicks had been treated.
Our birds all arrived healthy. We received exactly 50 chicks, no extras. I had only one complaint regarding Myer’s Poultry in that I did not get an email when our chicks were shipped. They ship birds Monday through Wednesday of your chosen week. When I hadn’t heard anything by Wednesday, I called myself to check the status. Our day-old chicks had shipped on Tuesday of that week, and she did give me an estimated delivery date that was accurate but we were not notified when they were shipped. She said we should have, but somehow it was overlooked.
Joy had contacted our local post office in advance to let them know we were expecting a shipment of live animals, but our phone number was nowhere on the shipment so the post office could not contact us. Thankfully Joy has a family member who works at the post office, and they tracked us down the morning the chicks arrived. We would have checked with the post office regardless because we were expecting them that day.
Non-Typical Brooder for Raising Cornish Cross Broilers
Since our first experience raising Cornish cross broilers, I opted not to use a traditional brooder. Usually, we put our chicks in a cattle tub for several weeks. However, we found it so difficult to keep the birds clean, that we were having problems with sneezing chicks. While we never lost any, I didn’t want to have that same issue with this group of birds.
This time, we opted to just partition the regular chicken coop to a little less than half the size. We wrapped it with tarps to protect the chicks from the wind and added a heat source. The birds had more space than a typical brooder would provide. With 50 chicks, they needed the space.
We had a cold snap right after we got the chicks, and we did put them in the brooder for only a few days. It got down to freezing temperatures, so we opted to use it just long enough to get them through the cold temperatures. After only 2 days I noticed them losing their fluff on their bellies. In such a small area, it’s very hard to keep them clean enough to prevent that issue. It soon warmed up, I booted them back out into the coop where they could spread out. While we cleaned them daily, in the brooder, they are so messy, that they can’t get away from the mess, no matter how hard we try.
Stretching their Wings
At their rapid growth rate, they quickly outgrow the space. It only took about 10 days, and the broilers had been given the full coop to give them adequate space. We still used a heat lamp to keep them warm. We knew eventually we would use the outdoor enclosure as well, but the birds were still less than a pound in size. To make it easier to clean the cage, Joy let them out into the fenced enclosure. After she was done, she left them out to enjoy the outdoor enclosure. Shortly thereafter, Roxie alerted her to a problem, and she could hear the broilers squawking. In that short amount of time, a hawk came in and had gotten ahold of one of the broilers.
Thankfully, due to Joy’s quick reaction, she was able to recover the broiler. He had some puncture wounds and looked a little ruff that first night. She treated his wounds and by the next day, he was back to his normal self.
After that incident, we knew we would have to fortify the outdoor enclosure to be able to let them outside at all. We opted to purchase a bird net. There were several smaller junk trees in the enclosure that we cut down. We used them to make a frame to stretch the bird netting over. We worked hard to make sure that every possible entry point was closed! It worked beautifully! I had hoped to give the broilers more than double the amount of space that we did, but really the space we gave them was more than sufficient. Throughout the entire process, they had plenty of space to spread out. We never had another issue with aerial predators after that time. Each evening the broilers were put back into the coop where they were in the most secure area we could give them.
Feeding the Cornish Cross Broilers
We feed our meat chickens a 30% protein gamebird feed. While I would love to feed an organic feed, it’s about double the price of the Purina feed that we purchased. Over the course of 9 weeks, our 49 broilers ate a whopping 29 forty-pound bags of grain. That’s 1,160 pounds of grain! It’s astounding how much grain the meat production birds eat! We were going through almost a bag of grain every day as the birds got larger, somedays they would eat an entire bag a day.
Some breeders recommend 20% protein grower feed for broilers. I read that this year after we had successfully raised broilers in the past. Since our birds flourished, we kept to the 30% protein grain that we had been taught to use. Using a lower protein grain will result in smaller birds.
We started with two feeders and as the broilers grew we added a third round feeder. Really they needed a fourth feeder to allow all the birds to eat at the same time, but other than first thing in the morning when there was the breakfast rush, the birds were never all eating at the same time. Ideally, I’d like to use long feeders to allow the birds more table space. That will be on my list of improvements when we raise the broilers again.
Feeding Regiment While Raising Cornish Cross Broilers
When the birds are chicks, they are free-fed 24 hours a day for first week only. After that time they go on a strict 12 hours on and 12 hours off feeding regimen. This type of chicken is bred for fast growth and they have a voracious appetite. They will literally eat themselves to death.
There were two occasions I forgot to pull the feeders at night and thankfully we didn’t have any problems. I set a timer to remind myself to pull the feeders after that so I wouldn’t forget again.
Sufficient Water is Imperative while Raising Cornish Cross Broilers
Sufficient water is imperative. These birds drink a lot of water to manage the rate of growth they are experiencing and the amount of grain they are consuming. We started with two-gallon size waterers. They would quickly drain those. Thankfully Joy was home and she could check them frequently. We had a 5-gallon size waterer in Kentucky that we brought home after the Spring Workcation. Prior to making that trip, we added a 7-gallon waterer. Joy also added several pans of water to ensure they had enough. It was a job to keep them full!
Since Joy and I partnered together for this project, she took the morning and day shifts when it came to broiler care. She fed them daily, kept their water containers full, and kept them clean throughout the day. I took the evening shift if I could beat her out there! I cleaned and made sure they had fresh water for the evening. As they got older and used the outdoor enclosure, whoever was free would round them up back into their coop at night. I would pull their feeders at night to give them the 12 hours of fasting recommended. I also tried to pull the weekend duties as much as I could if I could get out earlier than Joy. She kept up with all the record-keeping of our expenses and I handled the weekly weigh-ins and tried to keep records of our feeding stats.
There was a short bout where we were hearing sneezing chicks. We went ahead and treated them for 5 days using Corid in their water. We cleaned twice daily and honestly; Joy cleaned multiple times a day to keep the broiler’s enclosure as clean as we possibly could to prevent health problems.
In the end, we were hearing some sneezing too. Some of the smaller birds that we caught sneezing were put into the first group for harvest. We didn’t treat them at that point, even though it is safe to harvest birds treated with Corid (please always check with the manufacturer when making that determination). Both Joy and I felt like some of the males were sneezing when they ate too fast. The large roosters would hustle over, inhale their food, and then I would catch them sneezing when they were eating.
We lost one chick early on. Myers does guarantee their chicks within the first 48 hours after the arrival. I think the loss was right after that time period, but I did not try to refund it. I’ve read that the typical mortality rate is 10% losses with Cornish Cross birds. I am happy to report we have never experienced losses that high.
Failure to Thrive
We also had one hen fail to thrive at the very end. She was smaller than most of the birds, so she may have been struggling to compete with the others before we realized the issue. A few days before harvest, I noticed she wasn’t walking well. She could stand, but she wasn’t walking far. She was using her wings to support her walk as needed. I went ahead and separated her from the other birds. She was on the other side of the wire in the same coop. She was close enough to the other birds to be comfortable, but she didn’t have to compete with them for food and water.
When I returned home from work the next evening she could no longer get up on her own. That was just two days before harvest. I opted to harvest her that evening, rather than risk losing her. I asked Philip to dispatch her, and I went ahead, and hand plucked and processed her. She was our smallest dressed bird, weighing in at 4.82 pounds.
Leg problems are very common in Cornish Crosses so it’s not an unexpected issue and nothing to be concerned about. Their bodies grow extremely fast, so their legs and internal organs struggle to keep up. In addition to legs issues, they are prone to heart problems. It’s very important to keep a close eye on all your broilers throughout the entire process. Especially as they get older, keep a close eye, and make sure they can all move well on their own. Be on the alert, watching for any potential issues.
We had one rooster that liked to sleep with his head laying on the ground. I was constantly checking that bird to make sure he was ok. When I was editing the video, I spotted a tiny chick sleeping with his head laying on the ground. Apparently, he liked that sleeping position!
The Results: Coop to Freezer
I grew up raising our own meat, but butchering day never gets easier for me. It’s just a part of this lifestyle. We butchered our first batch of 30 cornish broilers at 8 weeks and 5 days old. The 30 birds we butchered on Mother’s Day, plus the one bird we harvested early netted 230.48 pounds of meat. These were mostly roosters with only 8 hens.
The second group of 18 broilers were butchered one week later at 9 weeks and 5 days old. Mostly hens and two roosters netted 128.5 pounds of meat. For a grand total of 358.98 pounds of beautiful chicken in just 9 weeks’ time!
Weight Growth Chart of the Cornish Cross Broilers
|Week #||Date||Low Weight||High Weight|
|Week 2||3/19/2022||8.5 oz.||9.7 oz.|
|Week 3||3/26/2022||14.3 oz.||1 lb. 3.5 oz.|
|Week 4||4/1/2022||1 lb. 12.6 oz.||2 lbs 5 oz.|
|Week 5||4/9/2022||2 lbs. 10.7 oz.||3 lbs. 8.1 oz.|
|Week 6||4/15/2022||3 lbs 8.4 oz.||5 lbs. 7.6 oz|
|Week 7 (new scale)||4/26/2022||6.7 lbs.||8.86 lbs.|
|Week 8||4/30/2022||6.38 lbs||10.34 lbs|
|Week 9||5/7/2022||7.82 lbs.||12.42 lbs|
|Week 10||5/14/2022||8.16 lbs.||11.42 lbs|
Expense Breakdown for Raising the Cornish Cross Broilers in 2022
I know this is what some of you really want to know! How much did it cost to raise almost 359 pounds of meat in 9 weeks? Well, it’s not cheap and it may not be cheaper than buying cheap meat in the grocery store but we know what these birds were fed, we know how they were treated and we gave them the best possible life that we could. So here it is, our expense log for 2022.
|Cornish Cross Broilers||50||$129.00|
|30% Grain ($20.49 each)||11||$225.39|
|30% Grain (21.49 each)||18||$365.33|
|50’X50′ Bird Netting||1||$32.00|
|Shrink Wrap Poultry Bags||50||$25.50|
We did have 2 bags of grain that we did not open, that was deducted from our expense logs. We had one partial bag and that was included because it was open. Anything we had on hand, we did not include, such as pine wood shavings, Corid, and wound treatment spray and equipment. We purchased one 7-gallon waterer for about $40 but did not include that because it is a reusable item for the farm.
Our final price per pound to raise 358.98 pounds of chickens at a total cost of $799.22 comes to $2.23 per pound for fresh, home-raised chicken.
How Does that Compare to Local Prices?
Out of curiosity, I compared that to the cost of local chicken. I haven’t bought chicken in almost 2 years, so I really had no idea.
We have a local poultry farm that produces non-GMO pasture-raised chicken. This is likely the best comparison we can make even though we don’t feed organic feed. They sell a 3 to 4-pound average weight whole chicken for $26.00, which is approximately $6.50 a pound. Just by looking at the images, I suspect they butcher at 6 weeks, because their birds are not even close to the size of our birds.
Local Grocery Stores
Publix is one of the popular grocery stores in our area. I actually had to go into the store to get the prices, as they were not listed on the website. They had several varieties of whole chickens a few antibiotic-free, but none were organic. Surprisingly they were $1.99 a pound for the antibiotic-free brand and the lowest price was $1.49 a pound. They did sell a Roasting hen that was a larger bird than the rest and those were $1.59 a bird, the one I looked at weighed more than 6 pounds.
Aldi had two types of whole chicken. Simply Nature Organic Whole Chickens which were labeled for sale at $2.99 a pound. Most of them were under the 5-pound range, I found one that was 5.80 pounds with a retail price of $17.34. Aldi did have one other organic brand of whole chicken made by Perdue. They were 3.75 pounds each at a flat price of $6.99. That’s $1.86 per pound.
Walmart was actually completely out of whole chickens, none of them were organic, just the regular chicken that they sell. I found the shelf tag that was labeled $1.04 per pound.
Let’s Be Real, How Do You Buy Your Chicken?
I will admit though when I used to buy chicken unless I planned to roast a chicken, I never bought a whole chicken. I bought skinless, boneless chicken breasts and at Publix those are $4.69 a pound. Leg quarters were $1.59 a pound with bones and skin and thighs were $2.59 a pound with bones and skin. Personally, I am thrilled with the delicious meat we raised and even though it costs a little more than purchasing in store, it’s still my preferred option.
One of My Favorite Homestead Projects
I have to tell you, I find raising Cornish cross broilers one of the most fulfilling experiences on the homestead. To me, it’s mind-boggling that the 49 two-ounce baby chicks produced just shy of 359 pounds of meat at just 9 weeks of age! Other than the bird we processed early, these large roasters all dressed out between 5 and 9 pounds! That’s dressed-out meat! Since Philip and I are empty-nesters, the 29 birds that are our share will last us more than a year. We typically get 3 to 4 meals per bird, plus we have the wings packaged separately for additional meals.
Considering the time investment, I think raising our own chickens is one of our best means of building our food stores. Plus it’s something I can do! I have hunted, I have put in countless hours practicing, and sitting in the stand, not to mention the expense. After 3 years, I have nothing to show for it. Thankfully Philip is a much better hunter than me so there will be no vegan winters at Kowalski Mountain. But still, I could do this on my own if I had to.
I also have to include that I just like knowing how our chickens were raised. The homestead at Kowalski Mountain has two commercial cornish chicken barns located at the end of our road. They raise thousands of chickens in these barns. The stench is just overwhelming. I literally have to cover my nose when we drive by. The smell of death lingers long after the chickens are gone. I know the challenges we face trying our best to keep the cage of 50 chickens clean. I can’t imagine the filth inside of those barns where there is absolutely no attempt to clean their barns until they are processed. The filthy living conditions only exacerbate the health issues. Unhealthy chickens don’t produce healthy meat.
Cornish cross broilers can be a hot topic among homesteaders. They call them the Frankenstein of chickens. They aren’t a heritage breed that can be raised from eggs on the homestead. When we get settled in at the homestead we will raise good quality dual-purpose breeds of chicken for just that reason, however, as long as we are able to, I prefer the quality of meat and minimal time investment that raising Cornish Cross broilers involves. Be sure to check out the complete post about how to raise Cornish cross Broilers.
Shop This Post
Cornish Cross Broilers from Myer’s Poultry (not an affiliate)
Little Giant Plastic Poultry Waterer (5-gallon)
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.