PRODUCTION

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks


March 4, 2022

Tips and tricks from industry professionals, to raise Cornish Cross for meat production, including the best practices to achieve success, from start to finish.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

Raising Cornish Cross for meat production can be a very rewarding, but often, challenging experience. Fortunately, we are going to offer some tips and tricks to make raising Cornish Cross more enjoyable, and a better overall experience. We are going to take you through the steps to raise these birds successfully, from start, to grow out, finishing, and finally, processing.

Cornish Cross grow very quickly, often reaching 5-7 lbs in size in just 7 weeks. Feed type and formulation can greatly impact this growth estimate however, so it is very important to select the proper feed type for your application. Also, and equally as important, consider whether you will be processing your birds yourself, or whether you will have a processor handle this for you.

Purina Meat Bird Non Medicated Crumbles, 40 lb.

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To start Cornish Cross, we always recommend using a 20-22% Protein Broiler or Meat Bird starter. This is typically formulated as a mash or a crumble. Mash feed formulations require less effort on the chicks’ part to process and digest the nutrients in the feed. Crumble formulations work just fine as well, however, it is important to incorporate chick grit into their diet, by sprinkling some chick sized grit in the brooding area, so that the chicks can ingest the grit as needed to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Do not ever substitute the proper feed type with a feed formulated for egg laying chicks, such as an all-purpose chick starter or layer starter. Most regular chick starters do not contain the proper protein levels to sustain Cornish Cross growth. Stunting, runting, and chick loss may occur if an inadequate feed substitute is used.

Manna Pro Chick Grit with Probiotics, 5 lb.

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We always recommend starting chicks with a medicated broiler starter. Medicated starters contain an active ingredient-Amproleum, which is a coccidiostat. Coccidiostats prevent Coccidiosis (a common parasitic infection in broilers).

Use plastic or metal chick feeders and ensure that your chick feeders are adequately sized to accommodate all chicks at the feeders, at one time. Most chick feeders have holes in the lid, large enough for chicks to access the feed though. Count the holes, and make sure that the number of holes available exceeds the number of chicks that you plan to raise.

Little Giant Plastic Flip-Top Poultry Feeder

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Little Giant Metal Slide-Top Poultry Ground Feeder 12 in.

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It is very important to always have fresh water available for your chicks. The age-old thought is that water drives feed intake, so if you want your chicks to thrive, ensure that they have adequate access to fresh water. The quart sized mason jar waterers work well. They are refillable and washable.

Little Giant Plastic Poultry Waterer

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When selecting a brooding area for your Cornish Cross, keep in mind that Cornish grow very quickly, and will require considerably more space in just a few short weeks. Plastic 30-gallon totes accompanied by a brooder lamp, work well for initial brooding, for up to 25 chicks at time, however, chicks quickly outgrow this area, so make sure that you have a larger area set up for your chicks by the time that they reach 2 weeks of age.

Once you have your feed selected, your waters and feeders ready, and your brooding area laid out, place approximately 2” of fresh shavings in the bottom of your brooder. Chicks can lose a lot of heat though their feet, shavings help insulate the floor and protect the chicks’ feet from getting cold. Shavings also absorb waste. Never use cedar shavings, as cedar shavings produce an odor which is detrimental to chick growth and can ultimately result in chick loss. Never attempt to brooder Cornish Cross on a concrete floor without a thick layer of shavings between the chicks and the floor.

Standlee Flock Fresh Bedding, 2 cu. Ft.

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How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

Always preheat your brooder before placing chicks. It is recommended to heat the brooder to around 85 degrees, with the warmest area directly underneath the heat lamp being 90-95 degrees. Adjust as needed to maintain chick comfort. If all chicks are huddled under the heat lamp, it is too cold in the brooder, if they are on the outer edges of the brooder, they are too warm. Even distribution throughout the brooder indicates happy, healthy chicks. Adjustments can be made by raising or lowering the heat lamp. It is best to place feed and water outside of the center area of the heat lamp, so that chicks can get feed and water, then warm back up under the lamp. Do not place feed and water in the warmest spot in the brooder as, if chicks are already warm, they will not want to become even warmer to reach the feed and water. You can move the feed and water as needed to maintain chick comfort. We always recommend placing three thermometers in the brooder. One on each end of the brooder and one in the middle, directly underneath the heat lamp.

10" Aluminum Heat Lamp Brooder

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Temperature in the brooder needs to be adjusted, typically, by 5 degrees per week, so that, by the time that they are ready to go outside of the brooder at 4 weeks of age, they are acclimated to the temperature. A good rule of thumb for setting the warmest part of the brooding area is as follows:

WEEK BROODER TEMPERATURE
0
(1-7 Days)
90-95 degrees
1 85-90 degrees
2 80-85 degrees
3 75-80 degrees
4 70-75 degrees

Observe your chicks frequently. Take notes and adjust your brooder, as necessary. Ensure that your chicks always have feed, fresh water, and adequate ventilation. For most applications, a slightly cracked door or window in the room is plenty. Direct air drafts over the brooder are not advised.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

It is also not advised to cover your brooding area with any type of a covering, such as a blanket, sheet or insulation, as this may cut off fresh air supply to your brooder, instead, make adjustments to your heat lamp setting at night to compensate for cooler room temperature.Follow the feed manufacturers’ recommendations regarding when to switch from the 20-22% meat bird starter to a grower feed, normally 18 to 19% protein, or, if your selected feed is a “start and grow” feed, continue to feed the same feed throughout. However, ensure that you begin to restrict feed at 2 to 3 weeks of age for all conventional feeds (non-organic).

Purina Start and Grow Medicated Crumbles Premium Poultry Feed

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How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

Only refill feeders during the daytime, and then let them run out and night. Do not refill the feeders until the next morning. This will regulate the Cornish Cross’ growth rate and eliminate leg issues often associated with over feeding Cornish Cross chicks. The objective is to allow Cornish to have access to feed for roughly 12 hours per day and inversely, not have access to feed for roughly 12 hours, through the night.Organic feed formulations typically do not require feeding restrictions, so continue to offer feed, free choice, if raising your chicks on organic/non-GMO feed formulations.

At 4 weeks of age, your birds are typically ready to either go into a chicken tractor, or be outside in general, with shelter, such as a coop or shed to go into during bad weather, and at night, to protect from predators. If the birds are fully feathered, they are ready to go outside. If they are not fully feathered, wait another week. All chick-down should no longer be visible, and should be replaced with white, adult feathers.

Remember to have a shelter and supplemental heat source available if raising chicks in the Spring or Fall. Cornish Cross thrive in ambient temperatures between 65-85 degrees. If raising Cornish outside during the warmer months, May-September, make sure to have shade available. By this time, make sure that you have purchased larger feeders and larger waterers, capable of again, allowing all your birds to access feed and water at the same time. Not sizing your feeders and waters correctly at this age can result in a poor growth rate from feed exclusion.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

If using a chicken tractor, it is important to move your chicken tractor at least once per week, to utilize fresh pasture grass and maintain proper sanitation within their tractor.If utilizing a stationary pen, coop, or other sheltered area, make sure to add fresh shavings from time to time. Fresh shavings absorb moisture, waste, and keep the birds healthier, and looking cleaner. It is not recommended to remove soiled shavings during grow out, however, as this can bring bacteria to the surface, such as coccidiosis, which can result in bird loss. Clean out should be performed after the birds are processed, along with final sanitization. There are a broad range of poultry disinfectants available for use, once a growing period has been completed. Sanitize all surfaces including the brooder, feeders and waterers, once the birds have been moved outside.

Begin weighing some of your birds at 5-6 weeks of age. This will help you zone in on hitting your target final live weight goals at processing time. At 5 to 6 weeks of age, most Cornish Cross will weigh between 3.5 to 4.5 lbs, with some falling below the average, and some above.

Make adjustments to feeding as necessary. If the average bird weight falls below the minimum, increase the amount of time that your birds have access to feed. If they are above the suggested average maximum, consider processing some birds early, or begin restricting feed access further, or, consider switching to a lower protein feed, 16-17% protein or so, often referred to as a finisher feed, commercially. An all purpose or all flock feed formulation works well for this purpose in broilers, if desired.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

During the last week of growth before processing, Cornish can be “finished” by adding in supplemented amounts of cracked corn, spent brewer’s yeast, or chicken scratch. Finishing allows a fat layer to form over the bird, locking in flavor and adding to the tenderness of the meat.

Most Cornish Cross are ready to process when they reach 7 to 8 weeks of age using conventional (non-organic) feed formulations, and 8 to 9 weeks of age, if using Organic, Non-GMO, or no corn, no soy, formulations.

Before processing, if processing your birds, yourself, ensure that you have the proper equipment prepared, so that you can process your birds quickly, safely, and effectively.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

You will need the following:

  1. “Kill Cones” (figure 1): used for dispatching the birds which are to be processed, can also serve as a collection tray to collect the blood from processing until it can be disposed of. Additionally, a 30 gallon tote can work well to collect the blood in.
  2. Scalder (figure 2): makes the plucking process easier. Propane burners with a large vat or pot of boiling water accomplish the job.
    Optionally, you may consider purchasing a plucker machine, which can make plucking a large quantity of birds much more efficient.
  3. Bucket or tub of ice water: used to cool the carcass before packaging.
  4. Vacuum sealer: to package the meat before freezing it.

If you do not wish to process your own birds, you can take them to a processor. Most processors charge $5-7/bird for state level certification and processing. USDA certification typically comes at an additional cost, and very few processors are USDA certified. Your birds will be vacuumed sealed for you. You can normally choose between whole body processing and further processing, if available. Further processing normally comes at an additional cost.Once your birds have been processed, if transporting the carcasses or storing them before freezing, keep them in on ice until freezing.

How to Raise Cornish Cross Chicks

To properly freeze chicken meat, ensure that you have an adequate freezer. Chest freezers work best, as they freeze uniformly. You need to achieve a temperature of -20 degrees initially to completely freeze the carcasses.

Frozen poultry can be kept for up to 12 months at -20 and 6 months at 0 degrees.

In conclusion, we have covered the basic processes of starting, growing, finishing, and finally, processing Cornish Cross broilers. This can be a very rewarding method to provide fresh meat for your family. Chicken meat is a very cost-effective protein source, when raised according to these guidelines. We hope that you will find success in raising Cornish Cross for meat production.


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