Raising Cornish Cross on Pasture: A Guide to Healthier and Tastier Chicken.
I’ve raised a variety of chicken breeds over the years, but one of my favorites for meat production is the Cornish Cross. These birds grow quickly and yield plenty of meat, making them a popular choice among small-scale farmers and homesteaders. However, raising Cornish Cross on pasture requires some special considerations to ensure that they are healthy and thriving.
In this article, I’ll share my tips and tricks for raising Cornish Cross on pasture, from choosing the right breed to creating a suitable environment, and everything in between. So let’s dive in!
Why Choose Cornish Cross?
First, let’s talk about why you might choose to raise Cornish Cross in the first place. As I mentioned, these birds are known for their fast growth rate and meaty carcasses. In fact, they can reach market weight (around 4-6 pounds) in as little as 6-8 weeks, which is much faster than other breeds. This makes them a popular choice for farmers who want to maximize their meat production.
Another benefit of Cornish Cross is their feed efficiency. These birds are known to convert feed into meat at a much higher rate than other breeds, which can save you money on feed costs. Of course, this also means that they require a high-protein diet to support their rapid growth.
Creating a Suitable Environment
Once you’ve selected your Cornish Cross chicks, it’s time to create a suitable environment for them to thrive. The key to raising healthy chickens on pasture is to provide them with plenty of space, fresh air, and access to nutritious food and water.
For brooding, you’ll need a warm, dry area that is well-ventilated. I recommend using a brooder lamp to keep the chicks warm during their first few weeks of life, and make sure to clean their bedding regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria.
As your birds grow, they will need more space to roam. Aim for at least 10 square feet per bird, and make sure they have access to plenty of fresh grass and other vegetation to peck at. It’s also important to provide them with shade and shelter from the elements, such as a mobile chicken coop or shelter.
Moving Cornish Cross to Pasture
Moving Cornish Cross from the brooder to the pasture is an important step in their growth and development. At around three to four weeks of age, your chicks will have outgrown their brooder and will be ready to transition to the great outdoors. However, this process must be done with care to ensure the birds don’t get stressed and become vulnerable to illness or death.
First, make sure the weather is appropriate for moving your Cornish Cross to the pasture. These birds are not as cold-hardy as some other breeds, so you’ll want to wait until the weather is warm and dry before moving them outside. Ideally, temperatures should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Next, make sure the pasture is ready for your birds. The area should be fenced to keep your birds safe from predators, and it should also be free of hazards such as sharp objects, toxic plants, and stagnant water. Consider creating a designated area for your birds to roost and graze, and make sure to provide them with access to shade and shelter from the elements.
When moving your Cornish Cross to the pasture, it’s important to do so gradually. Start by taking them outside for short periods of time each day and gradually increasing their time outside. This will help them acclimate to their new environment and reduce the risk of stress-related illnesses.
Finally, make sure to monitor your Cornish Cross closely during this transition period. Watch for any signs of stress or illness, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or abnormal behavior. If you notice any issues, take action immediately to prevent the spread of disease and ensure your birds remain healthy and happy. With proper care and attention, your Cornish Cross will thrive on pasture and provide you with a bountiful harvest of delicious meat.
Chicken tractors are a popular tool for raising chickens on pasture, particularly for those who are interested in rotational grazing. These are movable coops that are designed to be easily moved from one area of pasture to another, allowing the birds to graze on fresh grass and other vegetation while also protecting them from predators.
One of the main benefits of using a chicken tractor is that it allows you to control the birds’ grazing patterns. By moving the coop regularly, you can ensure that the chickens are not overgrazing any one area of the pasture, which can lead to soil erosion and other environmental problems.
Chicken tractors are also a great way to improve soil fertility. As the birds graze on the grass and other vegetation, they naturally fertilize the soil with their droppings, which can improve soil health and promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
Another benefit of using a chicken tractor is that it can help to protect your chickens from predators. By confining the birds to a secure coop, you can prevent them from being attacked by predators such as foxes, raccoons, and coyotes. Additionally, many chicken tractors are designed with a run attached to the coop, which provides the birds with a safe space to roam and scratch around in the soil.
Feeding Your Cornish Cross
As I mentioned earlier, Cornish Cross require a high-protein diet to support their rapid growth. I recommend feeding them a diet that is at least 20% protein, and supplementing their feed with fresh greens and insects whenever possible.
You can also experiment with raising your own insects to feed your birds, such as mealworms or black soldier fly larvae. These can be raised in small containers using kitchen scraps or other organic materials and can provide a valuable source of protein for your chickens.
One thing to keep in mind when feeding your Cornish Cross on pasture is that they may be prone to overeating. These birds have been bred to eat as much as possible in a short amount of time, so it’s important to monitor their feed intake and make sure they are not becoming overweight or developing health issues as a result.
Managing Health Issues
As with any livestock, there are potential health issues to watch out for when raising Cornish Cross on pasture. Some common issues include leg problems, heat stress, and heart attacks.
Leg problems can arise due to the fast growth rate of these birds, which can put a strain on their legs and joints. To prevent this, make sure your birds have plenty of space to move around and avoid overcrowding. You can also provide them with a low perch or platform to rest on, which can help alleviate pressure on their legs.
Heat stress is another common issue, especially during the hot summer months. To prevent this, make sure your birds have access to shade and plenty of fresh water. You can also provide them with misters or fans to help cool them down.
Heart attacks are also a risk with Cornish Cross, due to their rapid growth rate and high energy levels. To prevent this, make sure your birds are not overfed and are not eating too much high-energy feed. You can also provide them with a more natural diet that includes plenty of fresh greens and other vegetation.
In addition to these specific health issues, it’s important to keep an eye on your birds for any signs of illness or injury. This includes monitoring their behavior, checking for any physical abnormalities, and treating any illnesses promptly.
Raising Cornish Cross on pasture can be a rewarding experience for small-scale farmers and homesteaders looking to produce their own meat. By choosing the right breed, creating a suitable environment, providing a nutritious diet, and monitoring for potential health issues, you can raise healthy, thriving birds that will provide you with plenty of delicious meat.
Of course, as with any livestock, there are always challenges and risks to consider. But with the right knowledge and preparation, you can overcome these obstacles and enjoy the benefits of raising Cornish Cross on pasture. So why not give it a try? Your taste buds (and your wallet) will thank you!