I will never forget my first year raising Cornish cross chickens as a broiler, when I went to the brooder to find about a dozen of my 100 little white chickens.
My heart almost stopped too!
We’ve had chickens for many years and there’s never been a loss like this. Yes, chicks often die when they are in a brooder, sometimes for reasons beyond your control. but one dozen?
If you are thinking about raising Cornish cross chickens for meat, you can make a lot of mistakes. From not providing enough food or water to keeping birds in extremely hot conditions, knowing what these broiler chicken needs ahead of time can help you be more alert to prevent mistakes.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes you can make with these broilers. They are a unique cross with very specific needs and understanding the needs of the thesis will help you avoid mistakes and huge pitfalls.
What are Cornish Cross Chickens?
If you are thinking of raising broiler chickens, the idea of raising a Cornish cross has almost certainly popped into your mind. These birds, sometimes referred to as Cornish Axes, Cornish Rocks or Jumbo Cornish Axes Rocks, are some of the most exceptional meat-producing birds around.
They are hybrids developed by crossing White Rock chickens with Cornish chickens. They produce chicks with wide breasts, large, fleshy thighs and pale skin—the type of chicken you’re probably used to seeing at the supermarket.
The beauty of raising Cornish cross chickens is that they grow much faster than chickens of other meat breeds. They can reach 3-4 pounds in just under 8 weeks, in most cases, which means you’ll spend less time and money on feed while raising them.
Because they are hybrids, they are not meant to be born. You will not get the same kind of birds in the next generation. Also, since they grow up so quickly, they will not survive to reach sexual maturity.
7 common broiler chicken needs, and mistakes you may be making
Since these fast-growing meat chickens are nature’s little freaks, they are quite finicky. Here are some of the most common broiler chicken needs, and the mistakes people make when raising Cornish cross chickens as broiler chickens.
1. Feeding Too Much
Cornish cross chickens are known to have problems with congestive heart failure. They grow so fast that their muscles overtake their limbs, causing them to die in their youth.
Fortunately, you can avoid this by dialing in your feeding regimen. It is very easy to overfeed Cornish cross chickens and this can lead to foot problems, heart attack and of course, death. Don’t let them eat and eat and eat to their heart’s content.
On average, a Cornish cross will take about 10-15lbs of feed over the course of 8-10 weeks. You may need to measure the feed instead of allowing the chickens to eat continuously. This is a situation in which automatic feeders may not make the most sense (though I will always advocate for free-choice watering systems).
2. Feeding Too Little
That said, you can also feed your Cornish Cross Little. There’s a very fine line between eating too much and eating too little – again, make sure you measure the feed so you can really dial it down.
3. Keeping Them Too Long
A very common mistake that people (especially beginners) make when keeping broiler chickens is to keep them for too long.
These birds are whims of nature. They are ready for slaughter in just 8-10 weeks. It seems improbable that they could go from tiny, fluffy little chicks to full-sized, 6lbs roosters in such a short amount of time – but it’s true.
In fact, in the past, we crushed them in as little as 6-7 weeks!
If you’re new to culling chickens and aren’t sure how long it will take you (or even if you’ll be able to do it yourself), plan ahead. Give yourself time to gather all the equipment you need so you don’t find yourself raising chickens for more than 10 weeks – and remember that sometimes, even 10 weeks can be too long.
Why is it such a mistake to keep them too long? It’s not like the meat will get tough. Keep your Cornish cross chickens too long and they will actually die on their own. If you are not careful about processing your chickens in a timely manner, you can experience some very serious damages. These birds are not meant to live long – this is a sad truth, but you should be aware of it if you decide to have them.
They are meant to grow rapidly, grow up and be killed by the time they are less than 3 months old. If you keep them around for too long, their poor little hearts and feet will crumble on them. Do not subject them to such fate! Be responsible and plan.
Cornish cross chickens are cheaters. When you first bring them home and put them in a brooder, you may be tempted to keep them in a smaller space. Those tiny little chicks can’t need that much space, can they?
wrong. You’d be surprised how quickly they grow.
In a span of just 2-3 weeks, they will outnumber the brooder and have to be kept outside. Since these birds are clumsy and slow moving, you need to make sure that they have adequate protection from predators. They are sitting ducks.
Don’t be tempted to push them all into the coop, though. The average chicken needs at least 2 square feet of space, but I’d recommend doubling that if possible. This can cut down on aggressive behavior, competition and fighting.
5. Assume They Don’t Need Exercise
So you’ve been diligent about giving your broiler plenty of space – they can just park it and live there, right?
There is a common misconception that broiler chickens should not be allowed to exercise because their small hearts cannot keep up with their rapidly growing bodies.
These birds are actually more vulnerable to stress-related health problems because they are so large and fast-growing. However, a little exercise will do them some good.
Some argue that these birds do not pasture well. They will park it by the feeders and will not eat grass or insects. Personally, I haven’t found that. While these birds are not the most motivated to find forage, they will eat a lot of grass and other food that they find naturally.
evidence? We’ve found undigested hay and other food items in their crops at butcher time – gross, I know!
We raise our chickens in chicken tractors to move them to fresh pasture every day. Whether or not they are eating hay, moving these birds regularly will give them fresh hay (less compost load for zero cleanup) and a little exercise. You can also place feeders and waterers in different places to force them to move so they can eat.
6. Not enough water
Cornish cross chickens eat far more than chickens of any other breed – therefore, they also require more water. One of the biggest mistakes we made when raising our first batch of chicks was not providing enough water. Because of this, in the first few days, we had losses due to truck loads.
For 100 birds, you need at least 6 gallons of water per day. Divide this among several waterings with at least one inch of water space per bird. These are thirsty creatures and you never want to let them get out of the water. You’ll need more than a 6-gallon, even during exceptionally hot periods.
7. Too Much Heat
Many people raise their broiler chickens only during the winter or spring or fall months. In some climates, the summer season can be too hot for meat chickens, which do not like temperatures hotter than 75–80 degrees.
Cornish cross chickens have accelerated metabolism, so the heat for them is twice as intense. That said, they have sparse plumage, so freezing too much is problematic.
We raise our Cornish cross chickens in the summer, but we also live in a cooler climate. Take your season into account when deciding when to spay your birds, but remember that warmer temperatures can kill a flock of chickens just as easily as a predator, especially a sudden jump in temperature (vs. or gradual increase).
How to meet the needs of a broiler chicken – correctly and successfully!
Cornish cross chickens can be extremely difficult to raise – in fact, many growers report a mortality rate of around 30%.
That is, 3 chicks out of every 10. That’s probably not something you want to see in your flock!
However, by being aware of the common missteps above, you can reduce that rate to a more acceptable rate of around 5%. Ultimately, it’s pretty much impossible to stop All Deaths. These birds often die quickly without any warning signs of injury or disease.
Consider the tips above when raising your own birds and you’ll be eating a delicious rooster in just a few weeks!
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