Managing the Cornish-X Broiler
Say hi to the venerable Cornish X (Cross) broiler. That’s a fantastically fast growth rate, which explains why when you buy chicken from the grocery store, this is most likely what you’re getting.
The Cornish-X is the darling of the industrial chicken factory, precisely because they convert feed into meat extraordinarily fast. Some smaller traditional producers don’t like the Cross because they see it as the iconic example of an industry that values speed and size over the quality of life of the animal, and the quality of the resulting meat. They have something of a point.
There are, of course, more flavorful breeds, but they grow slower, and that can cost more money and time in feed and care. There are problems with the Cross as well. Because of its rapid growth, it is susceptible to mobility problems making it difficult or impossible for the bird to walk. These disabled birds have to be culled from the flock, which ultimately costs in feed consumed, lost investment, and a lower return come processing day. This article at Science Daily addresses this issue.
Personally, I like the Cross, for the same reason the big producers do, but also because it’s a good bird to get your feet wet with, if you’re breaking into raising chickens for meat. I advise people to start with the Cross, then try some other breeds.
The problem is what to do about your birds going lame? I ran into this problem the first year I raised Cornish-X. I fed them round the clock. They grew fast, big, fat, and tasty, but I had several turn up lame.
The following year, on the advice of a fellow chicken wrangler, I fed the flock 12 hours on, and 12 hours off. Reducing the amount of supplementary feed slowed their growth rate, which led to healthier birds. Not one turned up lame the second year. The downside was that overall, my birds were smaller at butchering time, and it took a longer time for them to get to butchering size. I also found them to have less fat overall, yielding a bird that was a little less flavorful.
Nevertheless, I’m going to continue with the 12 on/off feeding schedule, as keeping my birds healthy is a priority for me. To increase the flavor factor, I’ll tweak some things, like providing more fresh grass per day, and more space in their portable tractor. These tweaks will likely extend the growing cycle, but I’m hoping it will be at a lower cost for supplemental feed.
Someone who doesn’t farm might wonder, “Why worry about the health of a few birds if you’re just going to kill them all anyway?” I worry about their health and comfort, precisely because I’m going to kill them. For me, animal husbandry means forging a bond with my animals, and that translates into empathy. If I’m going to kill them for food, the least I can do is make their lives as pleasant as possible.