Raising Cornish Cross Chickens

Cornish cross (Cornish X) is the darling of the commercial chicken meat industry. Cornish X is also known also as Cornish Rock

If you have bought broiler chicken meat at the grocery store, high chances are that the meat came from cornish cross chickens. The cornish cross, also referred to as the cornish rock is not a chicken breed, but a hybrid that was bred for commercial meat production. 

The fast-growing and broad-breasted cornish cross is ideal for both commercial meat production and pastured broiler production,  with pastured farms like Joel Salatin’s raising the cornish cross in chicken tractors that are moved across pastures. 

Cornish Cross Commercial Production

Commercial production of the cornish cross is done in environmentally controlled poultry houses, where everything is provided for them. It is possible to raise cornish cross using various systems for commercial and home purposes. 

Cornish Cross as a Backyard Meat Bird

Backyard poultry keepers will keep a number of cornish cross chickens for home use. For example, If you need to feed your family chicken, 2 times a week, you can keep 104 cornish cross chickens, process them after 8 weeks, and keep the meat in the freezer for use throughout the year. 

Cornish Cross in the homestead

For homesteaders who are seeking to make a profit from their venture, cornish cross chickens provide a source of quick income This is because of their short maturity period of 8 weeks. . Cornish Cross chickens kept under organic and free-range conditions yield capons that taste better than ones kept under commercial purposes. 

History of the Cornish Cross Chicken Breed

Since it is a commercial brand rather than a breed, the breeding of the cornish cross is a tightly kept secret, though experts agree that purebred cornish and the white rock were used in the cornish X breeding process. The cornish cross broiler is sometimes confused with the cornish chicken breed. The two are not the same.

It was in the 1930s where breeders and researchers wanted to come up with hybrids that were meant for meat production. The idea was to come up with a hybrid that would gain weight as quickly as possible. 

The researchers developed the meat birds from different lines of birds with the grandparents coming from four strains. The third generation is what produces the broilers, cornish cross being one of the most popular ever produced. The complex crossing protects the commercial interests of the developer, making it hard for anyone else to produce the same bird. While cornish cross hens will lay eggs at some point, hatching them will not produce a bird with the same qualities as the parent. 

Modern hybrid broilers became common in the market in the 1960s. Cornish Cross chickens are not Genetically modified (GMO) but hybrids crossed from different birds with desired traits.  

Varieties of the Cornish Cross Broiler Chicken

The cornish cross only comes in one variety, the white-colored cornish cross, although different commercial strains have been developed. 

Popular Cornish Cross strains include

  • Cobb 500
  • Ross 308
  • Ross 708. 

Cobb 500, Ross 308 and Ross 708 strains of the cornish cross have the trademark white feathers and yellow legs. The Cobb 500 differs a bit in appearance, in that it is more rounded that the other strains. 

Cobb 500 and Ross 308 strains of the cornish cross are also branded as Jumbo Cornish Cross by some hatcheries, due to their broad breast meat. 

Ross 708 strain of the Cornish Cross, gains weight slowly at the initial stages. This fact might be what gives them a good distribution of flesh. Their breast meat is heavier than the other strains. 

Characteristics of the Cornish Cross Broiler Chicken

Heavy and muscular, the Cornish Cross has large yellow colored legs and deep and wide breasts. 

The cornish cross has sparse white-colored feathers, making it easy to pluck.  They have a wide leg stance, giving them the ability to support their heavy bodies. They have thick yellow feet and legs.

Cornish grow fast.  At 5 weeks the Cornish Cross will weigh 3 times the weight of the Buff Orpington.  

The cornish cross is ready for processing at between 8 to 10 weeks,  with males weighing 6 pounds and females weighing 5 pounds at 6 weeks. Ideally, the males gain one pound in weight every week. 

Due to their weight, they move slowly and will not do well in an open free-range environment. The cornish cross cannot fly.  They walk slowly, making them an easy meal for any predator.  They can only be raised in enclosed environments or protected pastures in a chicken tractor. 

Simple Chicken Tractor with Cornish Cross on Pasture. Photo Courtesy: Pinterest

Cornish Cross are not good foragers. To encourage them to forage in pastures,  their feed is spread on the ground. This will make them the grass and any edible insects as they feed. 

Cornish Cross Meat

Cornish game hens are female cornish cross broilers, processed at 4 to 5 weeks. At this age, their meat is tender and their dressed weight is about 2 5o 2.5 pounds. The tenderness of the cornish game hens makes them ideal for roasting. 

The maturity period for cornish cross broilers is 8 to 10 weeks. At this age, the male cornish cross will be at 10 pounds and females 8 pounds live weight. Dressed weight at this age will be about 6 pounds.  

The maturity period for the cornish cross does not mean they are ready for reproduction, but they will not gain any significant weight past 9 to 10 weeks.  If you are keeping them for mean, going beyond this point means they will be feeding, but only gaining much weight. 

Please note that cornish cross weight gain depends on feeding. When keeping cornish cross chickens, it is advisable to weigh the birds at least once a week, so that you can make corrections if they are not gaining the weight as indicated in the chart below.

Cornish Cross Eggs

Since Cornish Cross chickens are processed before they reach reproductive maturity, most people wonder if Cornish Cross are good layers. 

If you keep them long enough, Cornish Cross chickens will start laying at around 4.5 months.  This is if they live long enough to get to that age as they are susceptible to heart and leg issues if kept for long. It is estimated that they will produce about 160 small to medium-sized eggs per year. 

Keep in mind that they were not meant to be egg birds. Keeping them for eggs will not be economical, though many backyard poultry keepers and homesteaders have experimented keeping them for eggs and even cross-breeding them with other chicken breeds. 

Cornish Cross Chicken Health Issues

Most poultry keepers know that when keeping cornish cross, not all birds will make it to the finish line. Some will die early, without warning or any sickness.

An acceptable mortality rate for cornish cross chickens is 5% of the flock. Provide your cornish cross with the ideal growing conditions, such as keeping them from direct sunlight and rain,  in order to keep the mortality rate low. 

Cornish cross cannot take in too much heat, due to their body sizes and also cannot withstand cold temperatures due to lack of enough feathers. 

The most common issue faced by Cornish Cross chicken keepers is the sudden death disease, also known as flip-over syndrome. This mostly affects cornish cross broilers that are between 2 weeks and 4 weeks old. The birds just flip over and die on their backs.  There is still no explanation for the sudden death syndrome in meat birds. 

The fast growth of Cornish Cross birds can lead to leg issues. Since they gain weight faster than their bones grow, their spine and legs may get out of shape, causing them a lot of pain. They will seldomly move and can die of thirst and starvation. In addition, they can be fatally injured by other birds, since they cannot walk and move out of the way. 

Cornish Cross Chickens also suffer from heart issues. This is due to the fact that their muscles grow faster than their organs can bear. Their hearts cannot manage to pump enough blood to the fast-growing body.  The heart swells and fluid collects in the stomach and lungs. This condition is known as ascites and is characterized by panting, even when it is cold. Combs of birds with this condition may turn bluish. 

Some of the health issues facing cornish cross chickens can be prevented by providing an ideal growing environment and restricted feeding. 

Cornish Cross Chicken Breed Profile

  • Egg Shell Color: Off white
  • Egg size: Medium.
  • Egg Productivity:  No benchmark but estimated at 160 eggs per year
  • Skin Color: Yellow
  • Cornish Cross Chicken Breed Standard Weight.
    • Rooster: 10 lbs
    • Hen: 8  lbs
  • Purpose: Meat.
  • Temperament: Calm and can be kept in confinement. 
  • Size: Large.
  • Broodiness: Rarely
  • Comb: Single red comb
  • Climatic Tolerance: suitable for all climates. 
  • Varieties: White
  • Color Description: White. 
  • Conservation Status: 
  • Country of Origin: United States of America

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About James Polystead

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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