We have only been raising meat birds for 4 weeks now and I already wish we were done. There is only 1 way to describe meat birds, GROSS!!!! I guess you can also say they are unnatural and an abomination but thats too heartless for me. We got 10 Red Rangers 4 weeks ago and at first we thought they were so cute! For the first couple days they were like any other chicks, cute and cuddly but a little bigger than normal chicks. After the first couple days, thats when the poop and constant eating started. The poop had the smell of adult chicken poo, so out to the garage they went. They really started growing fast, by 1 week old they were 8oz each. At 1 week we also had our first loss, the smallest of the rangers we believe got suffocated at the bottom of the pile while they were sleeping. Lesson 1, make sure they have enough heat to spread out otherwise they will sleep in a big pile and possibly kill the ones on the bottom. We had been using 1 Brinsea brooder heater but that wasn’t big enough, so we added a second so they could all spread out.
The next week went smoothly so we purchased 6 Cornish Cross that were 4 weeks old. This was were we made the mistake. Cornish Cross are much different than Red Rangers, the Rangers move around more, scratch around and look for food more. Cornish sit around the food and eat all day long. After researching we decided to take food away at night because they would do nothing but eat. So they get 12 hours with food and 12 hours without. We weighed the Cornish when they arrived at 4 weeks old and they were 3.5lbs. Each week they have gained at least a pound. Those 6 birds started with eating about 2lbs of food a day and have increased to over 4lbs everyday. Cornish Cross grow unnaturally fast, you have these 6 week old chickens that look almost full grown, but peep like chicks. They eat so much and poop so much but don’t move around much so they are always dirty. At just 6 weeks, some of the Cornish are already struggling to walk because their legs can barely hold up their weight. Its really sad to watch to be honest. Lastly, they don’t grow feathers like you would expect, at 6 weeks old they are still half naked. I was hoping to have them outside but with our cold temps thats just not possible, basically Cornish Cross really should only be raised in the summer around Washington state. So my thoughts on raising Cornish Cross again is that I would rather raise more Rangers for a longer period of time than go through this bizarre experience of these odd human created breed of chicken thats just wrong.
Back to the little Rangers, they are 4 weeks now and growing about twice as fast as egg laying chickens. They are pretty heavy for 4 weeks and eat a lot of food, but they are still pretty active and will look around for food and eat fodder when provided. So far they seem like a little more natural for raising for meat, they still behave like chickens despite being larger. The only thing with all meat birds is that brooder cleaning is much more frequent with these giant birds, so stock up on shavings.
This weekend we will be processing the Cornish Cross and I will update the blog after its finished with how the whole experience went. We have processed plenty of roosters before, but they have been so small that Ive just breasted them out and removed the legs, so we will hopefully have plenty of roasters for the freezer.
Ok so now I can officially say this, I am never going to raise Cornish Cross chickens again. Its not just that it was gross for the 2.5 weeks but it was actually really sad in the end. The Nuggets as well called them could barely walk by 6.5 weeks old, even with all the space and attempts at getting them moving.
First lets talk about the stats because they are exciting. Ok so these Nuggets were 6.5 weeks old, we got them at 4 weeks and during the 2.5 weeks they were here they ate 30lbs of meat bird feed. Live weight totaled 30lb 1oz and post processing weight was 20lb 4oz so with the cost to purchase and the cost of feed we only paid $2.25 per pound of chicken meat! Yay that part is exciting!
Now for the sad reasons I won’t raise Cornish again. As stated before, most of them could hardly walk by the time we were ready to butcher them. Of the 6, 2 of them had a large amount of fluid around the heart which is an indication of Ascites or Congestive Heart Failure, these 2 didn’t have fluid in their bellies yet but it would have happened very soon. One of the hens had a very bad case of Ascites, the belly was filled with fluid, the heart also had a fluid sack. So basically at only 6.5 weeks old half of the Cornish were suffering from congestive heart failure. These 3 were also the smallest of the chickens but based on my experience with Ascites, they wouldn’t have lived much longer so it was best we butchered them now. The biggest Cornish was the top rooster and he weighed 5lbs 11oz, dressed out at 4lbs 11oz. The smallest hen weighed 4lbs 4oz, breasted out and removed just the legs and wings at 2lbs 2oz. So a pretty big difference between the healthiest and the hen suffering from congestive heart failure. Another really upsetting thing we experienced that was all new to us during the actually butchering process was the dislocating of the wings. Typically after Micah chops the head off the chicken, we hang them to bleed out, however the Cornish flap and thrash around so severely that the wings dislocated on 5 of the 6 Cornish. If we had known about this we would have used the cone method. Now the plucking process was very fast but their skin is very thin so it ripped much easier. So be careful!
So we learned a lot so far but we still have more to learn,