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This and that

May 4, 2010

File this under “one more thing.”  I ranted about Cornish X chickens the other day, and not so much about them exactly, but how they are cared for and how I continue to see untruths written or said about them.  Buried somewhere in the comments on that post, I spoke about reading yesterday that this breed of chicken needs to be butchered at 8 weeks of age, because they are unable to survive much past that age.  This was written by someone who is a writer by profession and actually was butchering a chicken by hand.  OK.  I don’t want this to be another bash session, and I know you can’t believe everything you read.  And I also know there is no reason to believe me or what I write since I am a nobody, uneducated, autodidact farmer but that very statement showed a disconnect with reality and myth.  I just want people to think, my husband calls it a “frying pan on the head moment” or DUH.  If a chicken breed cannot live past 1o or 12 weeks of age, how does this person think she got chicks in the first place?  Chickens will not begin to lay until sexual maturity, normally about 20 weeks, give or take.  And there are millions of Cornish X chickens hatched all the time.  So basic biology, where did the eggs come from?  Size has nothing to do with sexual maturity, we see lots of fat HFCS fed kids running waddling around that outweigh their parents or people of breeding age.  So just because a Cornish gets bigger than a laying hen does not mean it is mature enough to lay an egg.  So somewhere there are Cornish that live to be old enough to lay eggs, and I have actually seen this with my own eyes.  Just so you don’t think I am funning you I dug through my old photos and found a photo of breeding flock at a farm I visited in 1999.  The chickens are a breeder flock raised on pasture.  Using a feathernet system and portable housing these birds lived outside their entire lives with the exception of the brooding phase.  I purchased chicks from this flock, they didn’t really perform any different from the hatchery chicks and the cost was prohibitive.  The experiment was not profitable enough to continue, since the labor requirement and competition from conventional hatcheries was too great.

Mt Solon, Virginia 1999.

So there you have it, when you read something, be it on the internet or a snazzy homesteading magazine.  Consider the source, just because someone is paid to write something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the truth, or that they really know what they are talking about.  Many times old information that is just an interpretation by a single person gets repeated so often it becomes the norm.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2010 7:11 am

    Just to correct some of your own misconceptions: the birds that are kept to produce the cornish broilers are not themselves the same birds that we have. The broilers are a hybrid of two very specialized and inbred lines – carefully crafted and maintained to do one thing: produce birds that grow with crazy speed when they are hybridized. In this situation, your argument isn’t valid – because saying that Jenna didn’t realize that her birds came from others that came before isn’t true – cornish broilers don’t come from cornish broilers, they come from parental stock from two separate inbred lines that are NOT cornish broilers.

    That being said – I’m sure they would stay alive if you let them, as a matter of fact I’ve raised cornish hens and their eggs are HUGE. But, nobody knows everything: and that pays to remember.

    • May 4, 2010 7:34 am

      Dominic, I know what you are saying, these birds were bought specifically for breeding, Hy-line cross I believe, and this farmer was crossing them back with Delawares to make a slower growing bird. My point is that under good care the birds do not just up and die and for sure not in 10 or 12 weeks. The same things are said about dairy cows, that they just get sick for no reason and die at an early age. Even with hybridized breeding people need to take the care and feeding of any animal or bird. There is always a reason why animals and people are unhealthy and not thriving.

      I am sure her birds who looked very healthy would have gone on quite a while, but she is prudent enough to know when to do the deed. I just think that generalizing and saying they are unable to survive could have been worded differently.

      And no, I don’t think I know everything, but I do know some things, this reminds me of a friend asking a little while back what I thought about her goat parasite problems, since she wormed her goats regularly. My first thought for her was mineral imbalance or lack of proper minerals, most likely copper. She didn’t take anything I said seriously, but the goats were getting sicker and sicker and she finally called a vet…the vet recommended more copper. When I told her copper, she poo-pooed me and the book I suggested, but now that a professional has suggested copper she is worshiping the ground that vet walks on. The best part is that the goats will now be healthier, and I have learned if she asks me again for advice, my advice will be to call a professional – because it is a waste of my time to try to help her.

  2. May 4, 2010 8:11 am

    I love raising the cornish-x. They grow like the dickens! If I lose some I can generally chalk it up
    to mismanagment. I raise mine in a moveable pasture cage. Aka: chicken tractor. They are a little
    labor intensive as compared to other slower growing breeds but well worth any trouble.

  3. petey permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:55 am

    I was rather glad to read your “rant”. I had just been reading some posts on another site about the ‘cruelty’ of breeding these birds as all they did was “sit around the feeder and eat”. In a nation of overfed couch potatoes, I did find it kind of humorous. I would not have considered them miserable, as I doubt these, or any other birds, have visions of being sports idols. I think they were just ‘fat, dumb and happy’, and serving their purpose of becoming a tasty meal. Besides, with that mindset, I should think one would rather put a sad chicken out of its misery than kill a happy one! LOL

  4. May 4, 2010 9:04 am

    Keep doing what you’re doing, and rant away. Too many people have narrow views of their world, be it their food world or their social world. Your opinions are based on your own personal experiences and observations and that can not be proved wrong. Your rational and logical reasoning behind the choices that you make with your animals are a breath of fresh air in this current climate, and an inspiration to those of us who are starting a homestead (later this year). I applaud your efforts, and the fact that you share them with us! I look forward to future posts.

  5. Sheila Z permalink
    May 4, 2010 9:06 am

    Of course Cornish X meat hybrids don’t all just drop dead once they have reached the ripe old age of eight weeks. We have raised them to 12 weeks to get a giant roasters. The risk of losses gets higher the older they get and the expense of losing a bird you have put that much feed into is prohibitive. Which is why I don’t think it would be commercially viable to raise these huge 12 plus pound roasting birds. To keep them sort of healthy and raise them past the 8 week age we have found it important to be restrictive in feeding them. Past 2 weeks old they only have access to feed 12 hours a day. The feed gets pulled at night. They also are encouraged to work for their feed. Water and feed are not put close together, forcing them to walk some. Given a chance these birds will just sit next to the feeder and eat themselves to death. Also, there seems to be a difference in strains. Some lines are harder to keep healthy than others. Depends on the breeder and their stock. We have raised different batches the same way and some groups have little problem growing out to big sizes and others just drop dead of heart attacks and suffer from blown leg ligaments. Just depends on the parent stock and the genetics the chicks inherited. Personally I’d never keep these hybrids long term. They are worthless for breeding stock since they are hybrids and will not breed true. They are not great egg layers compared to other breeds and they have tons of health issues. They are bred for quick feed to meat conversion. Once they have done that job in their first several weeks they haven’t got much going for them.

  6. Marcia/WY permalink
    May 4, 2010 9:58 am

    Wow…it’s amazing that there is so much passion in the blogging world about chickens :)) One more big chicken comment from me…I found it interesting when I was ordering the Cornish X chicks that because of my elevation – 6,000 ft. – I couldn’t order the Jumbo crosses – must be too hard on their respiratory/cardio systems.

    AND, I for one, appreciate AND seek out your advise and knowledge in animal husbandry. I have found that experience is a great teacher and not everyone with experience has what it takes to pass the lessons along. With the exception of a few, my experience with vets is that most do have good advise and/or skills but lately it seems they really want to push the expensive drugs or treatments when a little homeopathic medicine would suffice.

  7. susan womersley permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:15 am

    Thank you for making us think. Of course people should not believe everything they read or hear – but it seems easier to let others do the thinking for you. I have had Cornish X for 12+ weeks and they were healthy as can be. Good management, correct feed and humane treatment is the key. You rant away anytime.

  8. DiElla permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:42 am

    A few years ago I went to our extension center to ask the master gardener about blueberries. A couple were there that day, both master gardeners. The man was writing an article for the local news paper about garlic. I ask them what vegetables they grew and they said “Oh, we don’t grow any vegetables only flowers.” I was pretty shocked , after all this man was writing about vegetables as an expert. When the article came out he had it all wrong. I’m just sayin.

  9. Marlene permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:48 am

    Amen, amen. It is about time someone has some COMMON SENSE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. May 4, 2010 12:31 pm

    I love hearing your rants……….sometime I’d even like to be a fly on the wall…….up very, very high 😉

  11. May 4, 2010 1:03 pm

    Well, I found this all very interesting.

    I happened upon a blog several months ago where the writer told about how geese were treated… the ones that were butchered for their liver. According to this writer, the geese were force-fed with “feeding tubes” to make them really, really fat, really, really fast. It amazed me that the writer didn’t seem to find anything wrong with this process at all. I found it all rather gruesome and inhumane. But then I’m a town dweller and maybe not so jaded towards misery and death in the food chain as others. And no, I don’t eat veal.

  12. May 4, 2010 2:23 pm

    my neighbor didn’t get around to the planned butchering of a cornish cross, and after a couple of months it started laying.

    The breeding you described, is that the family that’s bred the Corndell Hybrid in Va?

    • May 4, 2010 3:28 pm

      Spence, yep it is the Corndell I think it’s a different family now that took over the pastured peepers. Adding a little humor to the mix, the original folks last name was Shell…

      There was a poultry house here who went into pastured poultry being disenchanted with the Foster Farms (our own local Tyson or Perdue) model and sold eggs from their Cornish X’s meat birds at the farmers market.

  13. Emily Laing permalink
    May 4, 2010 2:58 pm

    Just lost one of my backyard hens yesterday and had a skunk that we had to chase out of the coop at 2:45am which as nothing to do with Cornish X or the controversy but I love chickens and I loved this post! Glad you can write with a sense of humor about this…waddling children and all!! Way to stand strong about your conviction.

  14. May 4, 2010 3:55 pm

    There will always be people who reject the truth because it doesn’t come with a Certificate of Authenticity attached, and who accept bullshit when it does. One of the things I have learned from gardening and raising animals is that surprisingly different things can work for different people, so don’t be too judgmental of people who do it differently than me, especially if they’re getting good results. It’s people who keep getting bad results, and keep ignoring good advice, that I can’t stand.

    I wrote a post on this topic that you might like:

  15. Chris permalink
    May 4, 2010 4:31 pm

    I guess in the blog world, I would be called a lurker…I do not like the connotations of that word however . Basically, I have been reading you for the past 8 months and have not posted until now. It seems to me you have not only the upbringing, but the every day hands on, one on one experience over an extended period of time. I do not have chickens yet( next spring is the plan)but I seek out your knowledge so that when, I do, I do it right. I marvel at the oneness that you have created between your livestock and the natural world as well as your history and family life.I realize that you have been influenced by Joel Salatin (sp), but I am on the same page. Only 2 other blogs do I follow regularly, subsistence pattern (which has inspired the low tunnel gardening I now use off season and to promote early season planting…and I have only posted there three times) and fast grow the weeds(where I guess I could be termed a lurker again). There are those that live the life and give freely and I am so thankful to learn from them. Despite my 15+ years gardening organically, it has always been in heavy clay soil, so I need all the help and insight I can get. I loved your info about the weeds,I mean WOW, what an eye opener. Anywho, there will always be those that will try to cash in on what ‘they know’…it’s been a pleasure to find you. Thank you, Chris

  16. May 4, 2010 4:50 pm

    I truly would take the word of someone who has experience in what they are talking about rather than someone who has just researched a topic. Most times experience is better than theory.

  17. May 4, 2010 6:46 pm


    I just happened upon your post. (I enjoy reading blogs from other farms when I should be developing my site, which remains under construction 🙂

    Anyway, There is one point of truth that you should know about keeping Cornish X much past the 10 week mark. First, let me say that we sell broilers and 30 -40 % are Cornish X. So I am not an anti Cornish X guy, but just with anything else there are pros and cons. A big con is you cannot postpone processing these birds as you can with other breeds. The larger/older the bird gets the more you are at risk of getting Deep Pectoral Myopathy or green muscle disease in your birds. Interestingly, it is nicknamed the Oregon Disease because Oregon State was the first to study it is how this article puts it:

    We raise all our birds the same. The one time we did experience this (only in our Cornish X) was also the only time we let them get past the 12 week mark. I had heard they died at 10 weeks and we had some time constraints in processing them so I decided to see how far we could test them. I think we took them to 14 weeks. You will not have to wonder if it occurs because the breast meat will be lime green (not very appealing). We have processed thousands of birds and have only experienced this in the one batch of a hundred. However, that one experience has kept us picking the larger birds out of each batch and parting them out to check them. Never have had the issue again.

    Just another thing to consider!


    • May 4, 2010 7:02 pm

      I always process mine at 8 weeks, but I have seen green muscle in another growers birds and they were doing their birds at the 7 – 8 week mark. You’re right though, once you have seen that – it is definitely something you would want to avoid. I wouldn’t go past the 8 week mark much just because of the cost to keep feeding them, but I guess I have been lucky over the years, we have rarely seen the high mortality rates that some report.

  18. fie permalink
    May 6, 2010 4:41 am

    Maybe the person in question, having never raised such chickens before, honestly didn’t know? She may write and homestead, but nobody is infallible. I read her & your blog and enjoy both. It seems like an opportunity to educate rather than chastise.

    • May 6, 2010 5:13 am

      Fie, you’re absolutely right, we all know the honey vs vinegar phrase. A rant never really shows a good side of someone (me) and as I watched the chicks yesterday, preening, scratching, and just being healthy, cute babies I wondered if a post about why all those things go wrong wouldn’t be better than speaking out against someone who wrote something I believed to be untrue.

  19. May 7, 2010 5:07 pm

    Nita, you know I have a lot of respect for you and your experience (if you don’t, I’m telling you now, I do). I didn’t respond right away out of that respect, in fact, but I have to disagree with some of what’s been said here.

    First, as has already been mentioned, Cornish X is a hybrid and would not breed true. Here’s what one hatchery says about its Cornish X chicks: “Jumbo Cornish X Rocks are hybrids. Therefore we do not recommend breeding, they will not produce the same high quality in the next generation and due to the extreme rate of growth they will be too large at time of sexual maturity to breed successfully.”

    While there may be an anecdote or ten out there about CC living out a “normal” live span and laying eggs, it can’t just be all poor management practices that leads to their high mortality rate. These animals grow at an unnatural, literally unsustainable, pace. For some, this is an animal welfare issue, not unlike finishing cattle on grain to fatten them up as quickly as possible. I get that some of these problems may be a management or feed issue, but you don’t hear about broken legs and heart attacks among slower growing breeds, raised by the same people, using the same types of feed. While I appreciate your frustration with those who are critical of your position, I don’t think it’s fair to say that all those who hold a different one are unreasonable and ignorant of the practical concerns of farming.

    As I have mentioned to you, we’re raising Le Poulet, a meat breed developed in France specifically for its ability to forage. While these birds do have a slightly slower growth rate than the Cornish X, in the end, I estimate we’ll pay about $3/pound for the 25 chickens that we raise this year. And we’re working at a small scale, no doubt paying more per pound for feed than you do. We’re experimenting with processing at 10, 14, and 16 weeks. I’ll let you know about our outcomes.

    Now, that $3/pound may seem like a lot to you. For me, it’s a relative bargain–our buying club members will pay between $3.00-3.50/pound for CC or LP chickens raised on pasture this year. I know of at least two farms charging $6/pound for Le Poulet chickens–and selling out! Having raised both CC and LP last year, I can say that the LP meat had a much deeper chicken flavor than that from CC raised in exactly the same manner. Their breast meat was quite different–not so much of it (which is fine by me as I prefer dark meat)–and the body had a longer, more football shape.

    We kept one of the Le Poulet meat birds that we raised last year. She struck me as more curious and intelligent than the rest and *I* was curious to see if she would indeed live long enough to lay eggs and whether she would develop health problems. She’s a year old now, lays enormous eggs, and is herself by far the largest chicken in our flock–a lumbering Baby Huey of a hen. She shows no signs of ill-health, though, and we’ll continue with the experiment.

    Finally, with regard to feed. I have been mixing our own for about a year, it’s a blend of rolled grains, whole millet, split peas, sunflower and flax seeds, kelp meal, and for the bulk of protein, fish meal. My girls are in terrific health on this mix and I noticed an increase in egg production when they first went on it, a decrease when I briefly took them off it, and another increase when I started them back on it. This mix costs me about what I’d pay for 50# bags of organic feed, but I am able to sell bags of it to folks in town it for a little more than that, which that defrays my feed costs. I prefer using fish meal as a protein source because it makes sense to me to give my omnivorous chickens some animal protein, instead of a “vegetarian” feed. Of course, they’re finding their own protein in the yard much of the time, but especially during the cold months, I believe this is better for them (I have absolutely NO research to back this up, just what I see in my backyard with my 12 hens).

    Anyway, just another perspective on this issue, from someone who gets where you’re coming from, but sees things a different way.

    • May 7, 2010 5:13 pm

      I wanted to note that the $3/pound estimate for our meat chickens includes the cost of the chicks, feed, and processing equipment rental. We’re doing what we can to offset our costs–ordering a large batch of chicks with a group and charging a small mark-up for our efforts, mixing and selling feed, and sharing the processing equipment with a group. So, our cost per pound may in fact be a little less in the end.

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