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Chicks – Two Weeks Already

May 10, 2011

Two weeks is one week past the cute stage for a Cornish Cross meat chicken.

One week.  Cornish Cross and Black Sex Link pullets.

Two weeks – Cornish Cross and Black Sex Link pullets.

Definitely not cute.  But I didn’t buy them to be cute, and like any other baby farm animal after the initial baby stage, cute is out of the picture.  You won’t read any Cornish Cross bashing here.  We have raised them for years, for sale and for our personal use.  I like them, from hatch to table they suit me just fine.  I have not witnessed any of the horror stories that are so often bandied about when this modern breed of meat chicken is mentioned.  When I have seen sick chickens I have seen poor husbandry practices, which I hate to point out the obvious, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the breed folks…and unfortunately that is common.  I can’t seriously believe an intense farmer like Joel Salatin would be using the Cornish Cross as one of his centerpiece enterprises if they truly dropped like flies.


This is always such a controversial subject too, not choosing a heritage breed, which is fine if that is what you want to do.  It’s the same with cows, you mention Holstein and people freak out, and I have to tell you I would take a gentle Holstein any day over a Jersey with an attitude.   More and more when I hear discussions about organic food being elitist, I always wonder why people don’t see that heritage  or dual purpose breeds, and heirloom vegetables are really the fodder for elitists?  Frankly I can’t afford the time and money to get a heritage breed chicken to my freezer.  The chicks cost more, it takes more weeks of feed and chores, for a tasty chicken that is good, but not stupendously better than a healthy pastured Cornish Cross.  We can’t expect fast growth and plentiful harvests with our gardens, or excellent gas mileage in our vehicles and then suddenly do an about face about chickens for meat.  The reason chicken was reserved for Sunday dinner (and not every Sunday either) was because it was special, and expensive to raise.  We are in a very small window of time where chicken is the most popular meat and consumed at such a high rate. The term Spring Chicken comes from the fact that the young 5 month old cockerels were the poultry of choice to cook when it came time to have a chicken dinner as they were much more tender than an older hen that would require stewing.


My birds will be inside their greenhouse/brooder most likely for 3 – 4 weeks.  It’s a fine line between throwing them out to pasture early to get more greens through them, or to keep them in while the weather is still unsettled.  They haven’t needed lights during the day since the third day, only having lights at night since our nighttime temperatures have been hovering below 40 since they arrived.  I don’t have to push them out in bad weather because I am not doing multiple batches.


They are active, curious and growing like weeds.  Which is what I want them to do.


I appreciate them for what they bring to the table (pun intended.)  We all want to be judged on our particular merits and the Cornish Cross raised in a more hands-on, small scale setting can be a great asset to a farmstead or even in an urban setting.


We live in a modern world, no matter how much we try to go back to a simpler way, sometimes the modern conveniences, like a fast growing hybrid chicken help us keep the our lives a little simpler.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 5:57 am

    Hear hear!

  2. DEE permalink
    May 10, 2011 6:08 am

    I’m with you. I got sex-lined Sil-Go-Link pullets this year ’cause I know they will produce and do it on minimal feed. Everytime I’ve tried a heritage breed they just don’t cut it. The Barred Rocks we’ve got right now have been an expensive disappointment….their replacements are waiting in the wings. Very poor layers and eat too much. Maybe in a commercial setting Cornish Cross are unhealthy with poor legs,etc. but raised naturally they do very well for us. Now we get the same from friends raising pastured poulty as trying to support their farming endevour.

    Our Jersey heifer is due in June. If she doesn’t settle in and be a good milker we won’t keep her. Pa says she is getting maternal…saw her sweeping out the barn and “nesting”…what a joker!! Our animals need to perform their basic function. When we had sheep if they couldn’t raise a healthy set of twins they were gone. Ewes make excellent kielbasa! With grain prices soaring we can’t afford freeloaders around here.

    • May 10, 2011 6:49 am

      DEE, Ironically when we had our huge pastured layer flock we used all heritage breeds, Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red and Australorp. Some years were great and others an entire flock was less than ideal, such a huge difference and great differences within the breeds themselves. Now I am just using the Golden Sex-Link or Black Sex-Links and I really like them. They are beautiful, and calm and the rooster – Russell Crow, is gorgeous 🙂

      I hope your girl settles down, I will be dealing with that in a year. For Jane’s sake I need to remember how Della started out, not how calm she was when she was mature. I lost my salvation a few times in those early years with the Big “D.”

      I’m the same with the cows as you were with your sheep, they must calve, raise the calf and not be a problem in the herd, otherwise they go. It’s too frustrating and expensive otherwise to accommodate all the special needs.

  3. Christine Martin permalink
    May 10, 2011 6:33 am

    Is June too late to get chicks for raising? Also, how long will it take before the chicks get old enough to start laying fresh eggs every day? We will be moving in June and starting a farm and have already started most of our vegetable seeds so they will be ready to transplant when we move and the next step is chickens.

    • May 10, 2011 6:41 am

      Christine, it takes about 18 – 20 weeks to the first egg, and you need a minimum of 14 hours of daylight for them to start laying. June is about the latest you could push it and still get them to commence laying before the dark days of late fall. It might be better to either buy ready to lay pullets (well worth the money IMO) or since you are starting a new endeavor, maybe order chicks in September when things are a little quieter and they will reward you with eggs in early spring.

      • Christine permalink
        May 11, 2011 5:18 am

        Thank you for your reply. We are very excited to begin and have been reading your post for quite some time learning so much and loving the pictures by the way. We have been reading and planning and reading and planning some more and the time has almost arrived.

      • Christine permalink
        August 29, 2011 1:36 pm

        I thought I would send you an update on our chickens. We got moved and set up and ended up puchasing 15 pullets in July that were about 2-3 weeks from laying but they started laying early. Something we were very excited about. They came with a rooster. Now we have 13 hens laying nearly everyday. we average 10 eggs and some days we get as many as 13. The other two hens we moved into a private coop with the rooster and they are currently sitting on a total of 30 eggs and we are expecting chicks any day. We are very excited to see how they turn out. They say only 50-75% of the fertilized eggs will hatch but with our percentages on the egg laying we are expecting great things. You and your blog continue to be a great encouragement to me. Thank you

        • August 29, 2011 1:51 pm

          Christine, wow, that is great! Nothing like having fresh eggs that you had a hand in producing! And you’re welcome 🙂

  4. May 10, 2011 7:01 am

    I sure wish that Tractor Supply would put a little FYI note on the bins when they sell these!! I ran across a thread on Backyardchickens.com yesterday where a new chicken owner bought them thinking they were going to keep them as pets. *sigh*

    This is my first year with chickens. I ordered the heritage breeds Buckeye and Delaware, but only because I liked them and they seem to be good producers of eggs. (I also picked up some banties at TSC… that is how I saw the CC’s) I hope that by next Spring we will have some good chicken raising know-how and culling under our belts so that we can try out some Cornish Cross’! Feeding my egg layers for months before they start giving back is fine, but I’ll be darn if I want a $25 meat chicken! LOL!!

    • May 10, 2011 7:52 am

      Jenna, I hear you on the $25.00 chicken, I’m keeping track of my costs so I can post just what these chickens will cost out at when freezer ready.

      • May 11, 2011 6:45 am

        Awesome!! That’ll give me a nice reference for our future endevours!!

  5. T.Lisa permalink
    May 10, 2011 7:09 am

    I agree with you on the CornishX. They have a specialty job to do and they do it well. I have raised 2 small batches and just finished processing the 2nd and I didn’t have any trouble with them at all. I have made sure to raise their feed trough up as they grow so they always have to stand to eat and I think that helps them. (I didn’t like the looks of them laying at the feeder and eating) Lisa

    • May 10, 2011 7:54 am

      T. Lisa, yes they do – these guys have graduated fast to the big waterer and the feed troughs with adjustable legs. As soon as they go outside they will have to work a little harder 🙂 They are eating machines, but what comes out the back end is definitely a pasture building dream come true!

  6. May 10, 2011 7:12 am

    I completely understand what you are saying, but something inside me would like to wish it were possible to return to the days of heritage breeds, when people are willing to pay what they should be paying for real food….
    Warm wishes, Tonya

    • May 10, 2011 8:01 am

      Tonya, I have the same wishes too, but practicality has to come first, at least for me. I save seeds from several vegetables that are local heirlooms to my specific area, and that were passed on to me by gardening mentors. I would like to explore in a post about true heritage breeds and vegetables, meaning growing actual, local heirlooms or livestock that really belong in the area where they are now being grown. It bothers me to see black or hirsute cattle in the South or tropical breeds in the chilly north. I think we are losing sight of the true meaning of what heirloom means when it comes to animal comfort. It seems like the zoo concept has become so pervasive these days, that we are enamored with specimens. Says she who loves her Guernsey cow… 😉

  7. May 10, 2011 7:49 am

    I hear ya on the cornish cross. I ran a batch with my layers last year and slaughtered older birds – 4 to 6 months of age.

    Prior to that I had considered raising capons, but didn’t want to do my own caponizing (that’s a skill I don’t have), and for the money, it would have been cost prohibitive to hire it done. So I raised straight run cornish cross instead and let them go long. The birds were very thrifty and grew huge. The smallest 4 month bird dressed out at around 5# and the biggest, a 6 month cockerel dressed out at one ounce shy of 12#. I fed minimally and the birds had to travel 60 or so feet between feed and water. They also foraged right along side my layers. While huge, and very dense, the birds had very, very little fat on them, not at all like the birds you see at the store. When my CSA members tried them out, every one said that these were the leanest birds they had ever cooked. I’m definately going to raise a batch for my own freezer this year.

    I prefer raising larger birds, as it make it possible for me to cook one bird that will provide me a full week’s worth of meals.

  8. localnourishment permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:34 am

    You are so right about elitism and heritage breeds. There is most definitely something to be said for keeping at-risk breeds alive through breeding and planting, but we all have to do what is going to work for us. As much as I’d love a cherry tree or two (or ten) they just don’t get the cold they need here in the hot, humid south. I’d be asking for bugs, diseases and heartache to invest in them. And asking a hirsute cow to survive here would be tantamount to abuse. You are showing good stewardship by knowing what works for you and using it!

  9. May 10, 2011 8:34 am

    All great information! Thanks for that, Matron. 🙂

  10. Bev in CA permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:51 am

    It has been many years since we have raised CornishX. We are in our 70’s and have 50. We have always had great results. We agree, you have to give them a safe and clean environment. It takes work and commitment. No shortcuts. Years back we had a cow and raised all of our meat. We have family members that get upset with what we do. How can you? We just go to the market, they say. It is sad to say they are very removed from their food source. Though many are not blessed with a land to do this. We do it with reverence, knowing it is a privilege, not to be abused. We feed ourselves and know what we are eating!
    Your newspaper and feed idea worked really well starting our chicks. Thank you. So far all are doing well.

  11. Anna permalink
    May 10, 2011 12:03 pm

    Hi Nita,

    Thanks for another great post. I’m wondering about how you keep predators out of your hoop houses. We had a dog push through our garage door and kill all 11 of our chickens last night and two ducks. I’m a little broken hearted and horrified that a dog actually came into our house and did such damage. They were still in a makeshift brooder, as I had yet to get them an outdoor coup. They were foraging outside in the day, and I nervously watched them, but the were inside my garage at night-I never dreamed they wouldn’t be safe. So with that said, what measures do you take to keep them safe with only a thin sheet of plastic between them and the great outdoors.
    Anna

    • May 10, 2011 1:20 pm

      Anna, oh I am so sorry – we’ve had our share, not with canine but with cats. Specifically bobcats – clawing plastic and chicken wire and helping themselves. We went to welded wire inside under the plastic to deter them and gave the dogs access to the outside. More dog presence at all hours coupled with a little hunting has taken care of the problem. When the broilers go out too – we make sure the dogs have access to the field that they go in or they too become sitting ducks. Our dogs are also pretty territorial and good at keeping other dogs away, which is nice since we live in very rural area close to a large city and we are frequent recipients of dumped dogs and cats 😦

  12. May 10, 2011 12:46 pm

    Sometimes I like the old ways BUT I then I don’t want to have to drive a team to town either 😉

  13. May 10, 2011 1:19 pm

    Last year was our first year raising Cornish cross chickens and it went really well. One interesting thing we ended up having one rooster left over when my husband said he was done for the day. Well, he never got around to the rooster so we still have him. He is a year old and doing just fine but boy is he mean!

  14. May 11, 2011 2:36 am

    I did choose to raise heritage breed cattle, not because of the cache but because they made economic sense for my farm. I worry quite a bit about the heritage breeds becoming gentrified by elitist amateur breeders making emotional decisions about their pets, not practical ones about livestock.

    My purpose is to preserve the genetics to be of use to farmers needing to modify their genetics to create cattle that thrive on an all grass diet and for small farms needing an efficient triple purpose cow milk, meat and draft. I did not intend to create museum furniture.

    I agree with you that we live in the time we live in. Turning up your nose at such well performing birds is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Not ALL the agricultural innovations of the last 100 years are poison….

    People are always searching for ways to judge and label quickly. As in favor of saving heritage breed genetics I am, I struggle to justify paying $10 per/lb for heritage breed turkey.

  15. May 11, 2011 5:07 am

    The problem with heritage breeds is that the show bench has become primary consultant for the gene pool selection. Farmers aren’t raising heritage fowl any more – chook fanciers are, and that means they’ll breed from a “pretty” chook over a useful one. Chicken shows once prided themselves on the meat of a chicken and it’s ability to lay – over and above looks alone.

    It’s a totally different today. You won’t win a ribbon at a show, unless you physically recreate a breed that “looks” like a heritage breed – without having it judged on meat and egg production at all. Back then, farmers weren’t breeding heritage chickens – they were breeding stock to feed communities.

    This is where the Cornish Cross and (here in Australia) Isa Browns/Hylines are filling the well forgotten niche of “food” production. People still gotta eat.

    I too would love heritage breeds to return to their original purpose, but while everyone wants a pretty chook over a useful one, fanciers (not farmers) will keep breeding them for people who wouldn’t dream of killing their heritage chickens.

    I reckon it boils down to making your breed selection based on need. Chicken fanciers shouldn’t be telling farmers what kind of chickens they “need” when a farmer doesn’t want to wait twice as long, feeding a heritage breed, just to dress it for the table. I’ve raised and bred some heritage breeds, so I know they’re unpredictable, but more importantly – they’re expensive if you make a mistake.

    I’ve paid $10 -12, per chick for day olds (heritage breed) that I’ve raised and fed for six months. Or I’ve paid $15-18 for a point-of-lay Isa Brown hybrid chicken (which is about 18 weeks old) sexed and almost ready to lay. That works out to roughly $1 a week, I’ve paid for someone else to hatch and raise a known quantity for me.

    Thankfully, I don’t have a need for a monoculture flock, and sometimes I can afford to splurge on a heritage variety for my laying coop. I get a kick out of seeing how each breed I’ve raised performs. There’s only been two heritage breeds that I would consider the investment worthy however – New Hampshires and Wyandottes. They’re hardy, good layers and not a bad carcus on the table.

    Barred Rocks have ALWAYS died early on me, as have Light Sussex. They eat a tonne of feed, just to become early casualties too.

    If it’s about meeting a need though, then you’ve got just as much right as anyone to make your selection based on your needs. We’ve eaten crosses and we’ve eaten heritage breeds. The real difference in taste comes from the fact we’ve raised it ourselves. I use to think it was the heritage breeds that tasted better, until we tried a cross. You could still taste the greens and the free-ranging. Foraging for food probably makes all the difference. Any animal that forages around to feed itself, tastes better than an animal which feeds exclusively from pellets in a dish. There’s something about a bored, unhappy chook that comes through the flavour of the meat.

    Your chicks don’t look bored though, as they’re probably too busy foraging for the mircrobes left in your composted stable straw. A happy chook is a foraging one, no matter what breed it is.

  16. Frank permalink
    May 11, 2011 9:49 am

    > The reason chicken was reserved for Sunday
    > dinner (and not every Sunday either) was
    > because it was special, and expensive to raise.

    I can’t but agree with you. When talking to my wive’s grandmother, who did the poor country worker/tiny farmer thing when young in France, she always mentioned they used to have three or four chickens — no rooster.

    They simply didn’t have the food/money to feed more. Once a year they got two or three new chickens and the old ones went to the pot.

    Large flocks of chickens only came with money.

  17. May 12, 2011 7:33 am

    I so agree with you….if the animal(s) doesn’t provide what it was raised for then it must go and be replaced with what will.

    Another of your really great posts!

    Hat tip to you.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  18. May 12, 2011 4:44 pm

    After this first batch of Freedom Rangers, I’m going to do a couple batches of Cornish X. I’m with you on speed. Freedom Rangers taste wonderful but take so long and don’t get nearly as big. You’re 2 wk olds look like my 4 wk old FR. 😦

  19. Joanne permalink
    May 17, 2011 8:14 am

    We’ve raised CornishX as well. The only trouble we had was when we waited too long to butcher (our fault). Since they were together with our laying hens, who were much quicker, these slow birds got horriby pecked. A lesson learned.

    I agree with the hybrid/heritage thoughts. I feel it is good stewadship to be efficient, time & moneywise, and sometimes hybrids work best for this.

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