Feeding Cornish Cross Chickens: How Much Should They Eat?
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Feeding Cornish Cross chickens the right way is so important. If you overfeed them, you will end up with leg issues, heart attacks, and early death. So how much food should they eat? What does it cost to raise a Cornish Cross from day old chick all the way to freezer camp? Let me share with you the stats and tips I’ve learned after seven years of raising them.
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Amy, hold up. If Cornish Cross need such special care, why raise them? Why not raise a bird with more room for error?
We’ve tried other meat birds, but choose to raise Cornish Cross because when all is said and done, we get the most bang for our buck with this breed. Dollar in, dollar out, it’s the most efficient bird to raise for the meat you get.
If you’re trying to figure out what kind of meat bird is right for your homestead—because Cornish Cross aren’t always the best choice—you can check out my book Choosing the Right Meat Chicken for Your Homestead, which compares five different chicken breed options that are often suggested to raise for meat.
New to feeding Cornish Cross chickens?
If you are new to raising and feeding Cornish Cross chickens, you may not realize how different they are from other chicken breeds. Cornish Cross birds are bred to grow fast. If you don’t feed them correctly, they will grow too quickly and that’s when you start to see sloth like birds that do nothing but sit and wait at the food pan for their next meal—partly because they’re lazy, but also because they can’t walk due to leg issues. You will also have chickens die off early because their hearts can’t keep up with the growth.
The best way to explain Cornish Cross is by telling you about a dog we used to have when I was younger. He used to bring us his food bowl when he was hungry. We thought it was cute, so we’d refill it. Every. Single. Time.
You can imagine what happened.
Cornish Cross are like that dog because they will try to convince you every time they see you that they are hungry and need to eat and if you don’t feed them right now, they are going to die.
And so the first time you raise them (just like our first time raising them) you may find that you’re going through a ton of food—and totally overfeeding them. Which means they grow too fast. They have lots of issues. They die early.
So let’s talk about a better way to feed them.
Suggested stats for feeding Cornish Cross
Let’s be clear: you cannot free feed Cornish Cross. You have to pay attention to how much you are feeding them.
According to the back of the 50 lb bag of meat bird feed that we purchase, it states that (in a perfect world) in 8 weeks, 10-12 pounds of food will raise a Cornish Cross to a 5 lb. dressed product. (Dressed means feathers gone, insides gone, cleaned, bagged, ready for the freezer. Basically, what you’d be buying at the store if you went to purchase a whole bird for supper.)
So. 1 bird. 8 weeks. 10-12 pounds of feed = 5 lb dressed bird.
Which means—using the 12 lb per bird amount—50 birds would require 600 pounds of food total over the course of 8 weeks, or 12 (50 lb) bags of feed total.
Doing the math, if it is suggested that 12 bags of feed will raise up 50 Cornish Cross in 8 weeks, that means you’re feeding a little more than a bag a week to a flock of 50 birds. But is this realistic?
Well. Let’s see what we did.
Our stats for feeding Cornish Cross (CC)
In full disclosure, our stats are from CC raised in a very (very) large coop. My commentary on free ranging/chicken tractoring CCs is at the end of this blog post.
We started with 50 chicks. One died the day after shipping. It is not uncommon for this to happen. We raised 49 birds all the way to butcher day.
I fed 900 pounds (or 18 bags) to 49 birds in 8 weeks and had an average dressed weight of 5 lbs.
900 pounds is 300 pounds above what the suggested feeding is for 50 Cornish Cross—but I still ended up with a 5 lb dressed bird. 300 extra pounds of food equates to 6 pounds extra over the 8 week course of one bird’s life—which is .1 pound (or 1.6 ounces) extra per bird, per day.
Breakdown for feeding Cornish Cross
My measuring scoop is an ice cream bucket. In the first week of the chicks’ lives, I fed a total of three ice cream buckets for 49 birds. Each day that accounts to about half an ice cream bucket.
By 3 1/2 weeks, I was feeding two ice cream buckets, twice a day. I had four feeders in their very large area. and I would divide the two ice cream buckets of food between the feeders (so, half an ice cream bucket per feeder) both morning and after we ate supper. That’s all I fed them. It didn’t take them long to eat that food—but that’s all I fed them. At this rate, the birds went through a bag of feed every 2-3 days.
Note: Make sure they have water available all the time.
Breakdown for cost of feeding Cornish Cross
The 50 lb bag of meat bird feed that’s available locally to us is $14.50 per bag. I don’t feed organic or anything fancy, as it’s not readily available where I live—especially in the quantity I need.
18 bags x $14.50 each = $261.00
$261.00/48 birds butchered = $5.44 to feed each bird to butcher day (average)
On butcher day…
Be assured, on butcher day our chickens were still up walking around, totally active, and doing their chickeny things. Much healthier than an overfed Cornish Cross.
On butcher day, we ended up with 48 birds. We actually had 49, but after plucking one bird we found a giant discoloration (bruise?) spanning the entire length of one side of its body. Since we weren’t sure of the cause, we opted to not put that chicken in our freezer. So our remaining cost stats are figured for 48 birds, since that’s what was useable for our freezer.
48 birds = 242 pounds of meat
$261 feed cost/242 pounds of meat = $1.07 cost per pound of meat
$1.07 per pound x 5 lb average dressed bird = $5.35 to feed each bird to butcher day (average)
Cost per chick = $2.40
Our cost (feed plus chick) = $8.25 per bird in our freezer
Reducing costs when feeding Cornish Cross birds?
Can you free range Cornish Cross? Sure. We did one year and found with them moving more, they were actually more hungry (exercise!) and they grew slower. CC need a ton of protein—remember, they are a meat bird—so their free ranging success depends on what you have available for them to eat on your property. In our experience, CC still require a ration of a meat bird feed because of their protein needs.
Another option is to use a chicken tractor. Our experience with CC in a chicken tractor was that the tractor had to be moved more frequently than with other breeds because with a CC, a lot of food goes in and then a lot of food goes out. CC make a lot of droppings, so if you go this route, be prepared to move the tractor a lot.
Other ways to reduce feed costs are to supplement with kitchen scraps, grow fodder, or use fermented chicken feed. I will write more about these options in future posts.
Feeding Cornish Cross birds correctly makes a difference!
You can’t raise a Cornish Cross like you raise any other bird. But when you are careful with how you feed them, you will have a much better experience in raising them, and a full freezer because of it!
Links specifically mentioned in podcast episode #57
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