Cornish Cross Chicken: Secrets to Successfully Raising Meat Chickens

Cornish Cross Chicken featured image

The Cornish Cross chicken is the most commonly raised chicken in the US commercial meat industry and is also popular among homesteaders who want to produce their own chicken meat.

Origins of the Cornish Cross Meat Chicken

Genetic Background

It was developed in the mid-20th century by crossing two different breeds of chicken, the Cornish and the White Plymouth Rock, which is why you may also hear them called Rock-Cornish chickens or Cornish-Rock chickens. The resulting hybrid bird is known for its large size, broad breast, and fast growth rate.

White Plymouth Rock Hens
White Plymouth Rock chickens were one of the breeds used in the Cornish Cross.

Development History of the Cornish Cross

Historically, chicken meat was primarily produced by raising dual-purpose breeds, and butchering extra roosters, which were not as efficient at producing meat as the Cornish Cross.

The Cornish Cross chicken was developed in the United States in the 1950s and within a couple of decades had taken over the chicken meat industry. The breed was created to meet the demand for a chicken that could grow quickly and produce a lot of meat, especially breast meat.

The Cornish Cross was designed as a single-purpose meat bird, and it grows much faster than other chicken breeds. In fact, the Cornish Cross can reach a dressed weight of around 3 to 4 pounds in just 6 to 8 weeks.

Physical Characteristics

Barred Rock chicken at 4 months on the left and Cornish Cross at 2 months on the right.
Barred Rock chicken at 4 months on the left and Cornish Cross at 2 months on the right.

Size and Weight

The Cornish Cross can reach a slaughter weight of 3 pounds in only 6 weeks, 4 pounds in 8 weeks, 5 pounds in 10 weeks, and 6 pounds by 12 weeks. Dual-purpose heritage chickens take closer to 4 months to reach a dressed weight of 3 to 4 pounds.

The Cornish cross also has shorter leg bones and larger breasts, meaning more meat and less bone overall so that a 4-pound hybrid will have more meat than a heritage chicken of the same weight. It is unfortunate that a lot of people describe heritage chickens as scrawny when that’s the natural physique of a chicken.

Color and Appearance

The Cornish Cross chicken has a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other chicken breeds. The Cornish Cross chicken has a stocky, muscular build with a broad chest and short, thick thighs. They have a wide stance and a heavy, waddling gait. Their legs are usually yellow in color and are strong enough to support their large body weight.

They have white feathers, which create a cleaner carcass because today’s modern consumer views dark pin feathers under the skin negatively.

Behavior and Temperament

Cornish Cross chickens are fairly docile. They are generally easy to handle and are not prone to aggression, although they do tend to get very excited at feeding time.

In terms of behavior, Cornish Cross chickens are not very active. They tend to spend most of their time eating and resting. They are not good flyers and are not known for their foraging abilities. This makes them well-suited for confinement in a coop or run.

However, it is important to note that Cornish Cross chickens are bred for meat production and have been genetically selected for rapid growth. As a result, they may be prone to health issues related to their size and weight.

 Cornish Cross chick at 2 weeks
Cornish Cross chick at 2 weeks

Dietary Needs

Feeding Requirements

Cornish Cross meat chickens have specific dietary needs to ensure their growth and development. In general, they require a high-protein diet to support their rapid growth rate.

Commercial feed should have a protein content of at least 20%, and should be fed to the chicks from when they are hatched until they reach around six weeks of age. After that, the protein content can be gradually reduced.

Unlike heritage chickens, which should have feed available at all times, the Cornish Cross should have their feed removed in the evening so they don’t eat overnight because they can overeat and die.

Water Consumption

Chickens should have access to clean, fresh water at all times, but Cornish Cross consume more than other chickens, so you either need to use larger waterers than you would for the same number of heritage chicks or refill more often. They especially seem to drink a lot overnight when they don’t have feed available.

Health and Lifespan

Common Health Issues

Because of its fast growth, the Cornish Cross is susceptible to two health issues. One of the most common issues is leg problems, which can be caused by the bird’s rapid growth rate and weight gain. This can lead to difficulty walking and standing; in severe cases, it can even result in lameness or paralysis.

Another issue that can affect Cornish Cross chickens is heart failure. This is also related to their rapid growth rate, as their hearts may not be able to keep up with the demands of their large bodies. Signs of heart failure include difficulty breathing, lethargy, and sudden death.

To prevent these problems, it is essential that you remove their feed in the evening and do not provide them with more feed until the next morning, starting at about 3 to 4 days of age.

Cornish Cross chicks Day Old
Cornish Cross chicks Day Old

Breeding and Reproduction

Cornish Cross meat chickens are a hybrid cross between a Cornish chicken and a White Plymouth Rock chicken, which means that they will not produce offspring that have the same high growth rate that the parents had.

Due to their genetics, Cornish Cross chickens have a very low fertility rate, which can make breeding and reproduction difficult. In addition, their fast growth rate can make it difficult for them to mate naturally, as they may not have the energy or stamina to do so.

Their unusually large breasts also make natural mating unsuccessful because the male can’t get close enough to the female, so they are typically artificially inseminated. Most homesteaders are happy to leave this chore to the professionals and purchase day-old chicks yearly.

Economic Importance

Meat Production

In terms of meat production, the Cornish Cross is a highly efficient breed. It has a high feed conversion rate, which means that it can convert feed into meat more efficiently than other breeds. This makes it a cost-effective choice for commercial meat producers because they can grow twice as many chickens in the same time and space that it would take to produce heritage chickens for meat. It is also popular among homesteaders who love breast meat.

Role in Poultry Industry

The Cornish Cross is a significant contributor to the poultry industry. It is the most commonly raised breed for meat production in the United States. The breed’s popularity is due to its fast growth rate, high meat yield, and cost-effectiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the characteristics of a Cornish cross chicken?

Cornish cross chickens are known for their large size and rapid growth rate. They have a stocky build, broad breast, and white feathers. They are also known for their excellent feed conversion rate.

Are Cornish cross good meat chickens?

Yes, Cornish cross chickens are bred specifically for meat production and are considered one of the best meat chickens available. They have a high meat-to-bone ratio, tender meat, and a mild flavor.

What two breeds make a Cornish cross chicken?

Cornish cross chickens are a hybrid breed created by crossing a Cornish chicken with a White Plymouth Rock chicken.

Cornish Chickens
The Plymouth Rock chicken was one of the breeds used in today’s Cornish Cross meat bird.

What is the average weight of a Cornish cross chicken?

The average dressed weight of a Cornish cross chicken is around 3-4 pounds when processed at 6-8 weeks of age.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of raising Cornish cross chickens?

Advantages of raising Cornish cross chickens include their fast growth rate, high meat-to-bone ratio, and mild flavor. Disadvantages include their susceptibility to health problems due to their rapid growth rate, and their inability to reproduce naturally.

Curious about the other chicken breeds? Delve into a wealth of information on various chicken varieties by exploring our comprehensive list on “Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds”.

Want to learn more about raising chickens? This Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens (+Pro Tips) will help you ask yourself all the right questions, and it will also give you a realistic idea of what to expect as a chicken owner.

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Cornish Cross Chicken

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