• Creepy Meats – On Raising Cornish Cross Meat Chickens

    by  • July 18, 2013 • City Chickens, Featured • 18 Comments

    The story below contains details about the process of raising meat chickens but no graphic images or descriptions of the slaughter.
    cornish cross chick

    My friends Ohio Farm Girl and Lyndsey Teeter refer to Cornish Cross meat chickens as ‘creepy meats’. I had no idea what they were talking about and blindly ordered six chicks to try our hand at raising meat on our very own property.

    In four weeks the tiny chicks ballooned into squishy, barely feathered tweens bigger than the laying hens we had been raising for eighteen weeks already. They didn’t forage, cluck, respond to us, or even kick up the grass under their chicken tractor. Creepy meats have exactly three tasks in life – eat, drink, and poop.

    Caring for cornish cross chickens took us less than 15 minutes a day, whereas Lil typically spends an hour visiting, feeding, watering, and collecting eggs from the hens. The creepy meats had no personality to enjoy or activities that required our input.

    When they were six weeks old, we began to discuss their demise. We weighed one and decided they could probably eat for a few more weeks to put on more weight and make our plucking time worth it.

    By eight weeks, our cornish cross chicks could barely waddle up the ramp to the roost at night. Their eat-sleep-poop routine had become so vigorous that we were moving the tractor every two days to prevent them from laying in their own waste. It was time.

    full grown cornish cross chickens

    The Butchering

    “Are you butchering them yourself?” friends and family asked. Of course. We’re practiced in chicken slaughter and believe in the process of meeting your meat. Besides, with the cost of all the other inputs (see below), it didn’t make financial sense to drive them to pay a processor.

    On Sunday morning, we set up a borrowed homemade cone on a ladder with catch bucket underneath. Next to that was our propane turkey fryer with a pot of water. Then a table with sharpened knives, waste bucket, towels and cutting boards. Finally we had a bucket of cool water for rinsing/chilling and a cooler of ice.

    butchering cornish cross chickens

    The process was quick: Alex did the deed, I plucked, he eviscerated, and I cleaned up. With interruptions to console Lil (she didn’t like the squawking the birds made when we picked them up, nor the after-life shaking), processing six birds took an hour an a half from setup to cleanup.

    We left the chickens buried in ice for twenty four hours to go through the rigor mortis process. The next day, we vacuum sealed three whole chickens and three in pieces. Alex made pate from the liver and stock from the feet, necks, and scraps.

    cornish cross chicken meat packaged

    Raising Meat Birds By The Numbers

    $15 for five chicks plus one bonus chick for no charge
    $0 gas because a friend nicely did the driving for a jar of sourdough starter
    $61.50 for 125 pounds of non-GMO local feed
    20 wheelbarrow loads of free woodchips spread over the waste so flies wouldn’t set in
    90 minutes processing
    $5 ice and vac bags
    24 pounds of chicken in the freezer
    3/4 pint liver pate
    8 1/2 pints stock

    Total cost: $81.50 (not including our time or existing equipment like tractor coop, processing tools, vacuum sealer)
    Price per pound: $3.02 (counting pate and stock as 3 pounds of meat)

    We Won’t Raise Cornish Cross Again

    Cornish Cross meat birds are amazing grain-to-protein machines. No other breed is able to mature in eight weeks with such high quality, tasty meat.

    However, we like chickens that do more than just make protein. We want birds that can provide a foraging and soil-turning benefit since the cost of raising them ourselves barely saves a cent over buying from a reputable local seller. If they can add to the fun and beauty of the homestead, even better.

    When the summer heat passes, we’ll try another round of meat birds but they won’t be Cornish Cross. The breeds we’re looking at will mature slower but provide a value beyond meat, whether that’s a taste benefit (Buckeyes), foraging/mowing (Freedom Ranger) or soil turning (both of the above).

    Have you raised meat birds before? What was your experience?

    PS. If you are interested in witnessing and learning how to slaughter a chicken, our friend Denise is hosting a hands-on butchering class through City Folk’s Farm Shop.

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    I live to eat and eat to live, planning every meal to include as much local and seasonal abundance as possible. My favorite color is purple, my favorite vegetable is whatever is fresh and local, and my favorite drink is whatever you're pouring. Follow me @racheltayse


    18 Responses to Creepy Meats – On Raising Cornish Cross Meat Chickens

    1. July 18, 2013 at 8:56 am

      I too love how they are referred to as “creepy meats”. It is so weird to watch them grow. Your setup looks perfect and that’s funny that people wanted to know if you were butchering yourselves. Our philosophy falls in line with Polyface that you want to minimize the stress on the animal so you wouldn’t want to have to transport to butcher. And that you want to control all aspects of raising the animal. Did you do a side by side taste test of a store vs. a home bird? We did when we first started and it was night and day. We’ve also butchered our Delaware and Buckeye roosters and although much less meaty the taste was excellent. Great post!

      • July 18, 2013 at 9:46 am

        We haven’t done a side-by-side yet but what we’ve eaten has been great!

        I did think about the stress (and smell) of transporting birds. We’d have to drive at least thirty minutes to get to a processor.

    2. Sarah M.
      July 18, 2013 at 9:21 am

      So were these the birds that were in the tractor coop during your open house? We thought they were lacking in personality :)

      • July 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

        Yes, the white birds under the classy tarped coop were butchered the very next day. Part of the lack of personality is that we never handled them much but they naturally have the inclinations of a slug I think.

    3. July 18, 2013 at 10:37 am

      We raised eight of them about 5 years ago. They were mean, always trying to eat me when I fed them. Our experience was the same as yours. I wouldn’t do it again. They are gross, poopy, mean birds. I think ( if I ever get to raise chikens again) that I would look for a heritage breed known to be good for meat.

      • July 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm

        They’re pretty gross, which is a good way to keep yourself from becoming attached, I guess.

    4. July 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Fantastic post, I learned a lot. For all the work it doesn’t seem to save you much dough.

    5. July 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      I really enjoyed your post. It was so informative and anyone looking to raise their own meat could certainly benefit form it. That is what it is all about! Sharing with others to help them out!

    6. July 27, 2013 at 11:17 am

      When my son said he wanted chickens for the fair last year, I told him he could do fancy poultry or laying hens, but NO market chickens. We have been raising market turkeys for years and at least they will get up and walk around all day looking for stuff to eat. In fact, I’d recommend a turkey or two, but the market turkeys are kind of boring. Heritage breeds are a lot more fun. I’m raising Regal Red turkeys right now and they make a nice complement to my Buckeye chickens. Gotta love red birds. I put up 10 Buckeye cockerels last year and they are an excellent source of stock for soups and noodles. I would highly recommend them as an alternative to the Cornish. Another alternative that some folks are trying is a hybrid between Buckeyes and Dark Cornish (the parent stock of the modern meat chicken) that are meatier than the Buckeyes in the breast, but not as lazy as the Cornish cross.

    7. September 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

      We have raised these birds twice now. The first time we made them pets. They followed us around and clucked and we loved them. The second time we had more of them. They love for scratch and these seem to be more active. Still the same, the more attention you give them the better their personality. On the other side of the coin, be careful, making them pets as they are ultimately food. They are delicious and precocious birds. I say the more you put into them the more you get out of them!

    8. David P
      December 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      I have been raising chickens for eggs for the past several years. I started with Rhode Island Reds and then tried Barred Rock. Both have done well, and given us many eggs. I found out about this breed from my local co=op store and decided to take the plunge. My goal is to produce enough meat for the year. I have 50 coming, with 25 free assorted, some of which we will consume, while others will be kept for eggs. As i understand it, these birds dress out easily without plucking necessary. The breasts can be taken, the legs cut and skinned, and the drummettes also cut and skinned. That is my plan. I would like to get 4 pounds of meat per bird, so am planning a good diet and about 10-11 weeks grow time. I love animals, but will have no difficulty harvesting these birds. While they grow I will have them over my garden to provide fertilizer, and once they are gone, i will start my garden. Tomatoes absolutely go nuts with chicken manure. Beets and carrots also did very well, on average, twice the size of soil that was not fertilized. The thought of growing these birds and providing for ourselves, using the fertilizer and growing our own food just resonates with me. Oh, and I have to share this…we were getting too many eggs with only 7 barred rock hens, even after trying to give them away, so we are going to fry up and freeze egg whites for sandwiches, and also use some for homemade mayo. Thanks for the great posts and happy farming!

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    10. Cindy
      July 19, 2014 at 9:33 am

      This was my second year to raise organic fed Rock Cornish Cross for meat production. I learned a LOT last year and I must say that this year was much better. What I learned last year through trial and error was knowledge well earned.

      This year, at 2 weeks, my chicks were big enough to let out into the run without worrying about them getting through the fencing. I have a 32′ long run and I put their feed at the far end. This meant that every morning they had to walk (run./flap) this distance to eat and drink. I did not have one straddle leg this year, and I only lost one to what I think was probably a heart attack in the night. I also used quite of bit of barn lime and clean stray so they weren’t laying in their poop :)

      I have one bird that did not go to my freezer. She was 1/3 the size of the rest and still smaller than my pullets that are 4 weeks older than her. So, I’m keeping her as a layer. She is very, very tame and runs up to me and between my legs chirping. I sit down and she’s right there crawling up on my lap to snuggle! Not a pretty bird, but I am not into chicken nuggets, so I’m hoping she she’ll produce eggs. Not sure if the “cross” didn’t take or she’s just a runt.

    11. Cynthia Eli
      October 2, 2014 at 12:34 am

      16892 220th Street
      Milaca, MN 56353

    12. May 7, 2015 at 11:29 am

      This is our first time with raising meat birds (cx, organic, free-range) -I have a blog post in the works but I wanted to say my thoughts echo what you shared here. But, I must finish what I started and am committed to loving these creepy birds to the end ……. but never again.
      Have you found a breed you prefer for meat? We’re thinking of just using barred rocks but are not sure yet.

      Thanks for sharing.

    13. bdaley44428@gmail.com
      June 9, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      If you give them laying mix 2 out of 7 days a week and keep them about 10-15 days longer they have stronger bones and get bigger.

    14. Connie Carcione
      March 11, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      Are these birds treated with antibiotics to make them grow so fast? I read that they need to be given a probiotic when they get home. Do you know what that would be and why? I am looking for meat birds and since I have a bunch of fun chickens and turkeys already, I don’t think I care much about their personality. If they aren’t fun, I might not have a hard time eating them.

      • Gavin Dinnel
        April 15, 2016 at 1:16 am

        Connie –

        The Cornish Cross chicks you get are not given antibiotics and that is not why they grow so fast.
        Cornish Cross have something which is called hybrid vigor. They are a cross of two different breeds and they gain the really good parts about each and kind of in a supercharged way. This cross is quite technical and a lot of scientific work went into it so these birds grow the way they do.
        It’s similar to the hybrid tomato plants you can buy. The plants will produce very well, but try to keep the seed for your own starts next year and those tomato plants won’t produce the same.
        As far as the probiotics go, shipping chicks or picking them up from the local feed store can be stressful and the probiotics can help regulate their system and hopefully prevent anything. This would apply to all chicks, not just Cornish Cross.
        If you are looking for a feed efficient bird capable of going from chick to your freezer in 6-8 weeks and have done your research on how they will act, how they will eat and how to raise them, then you’ll be happy with them. If you expect them to act like any other chicken, then you’ll be disappointed.

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