Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chicken experiment #1: Heritage breed roosters vs cornish cross

Cornish Cross & Black Australorp chick, couple of days old

One thing that I'd like to know for myself is what the cost difference is in raising a cornish cross chicken and a heritage rooster, so I'm going to do an experiment to see what the costs are for raising heritage roosters vs the industry standard cornish cross.    Both sets of birds will eat an identical feed ration. 

Chickens eggs hatch about 50% male/female.  But most people who keep chickens only want the hens, which leaves hatcheries with (huge) numbers of surplus male chicks.  They're usually quietly disposed of at the hatchery.  You can buy them for $0.50 to $0.80 from national hatcheries, or sometimes get them for free if you live close to a hatchery -- as the hatchery owners hate to kill the chicks and most would rather they be put to some better use. 

Low cost chickens?
There's a lot of rooster chicks that you can buy or aquire cheaply.  Cornish cross chicks cost a little more, but grow a lot faster.  A cornish cross chick sells for $1.50 to $2 each. 

Cornish Cross and Buff Orpington chick, one week old

So what I'm going to do is raise a batch of roosters and a batch of cornish cross, carefully measuring the amount of feed and tracking the amount of bedding and all other inputs including labor for each batch, and weighing the chicks every week or so until slaughter.

Personally, I prefer to raise the heritage roosters, but in doing so I've got to have a better idea of what it really costs me to raise them -- so I can make sure that the price that I'm charging is appropriate and profitable.  By doing a small study I can take the guesswork out of the mix. 

Cornish cross and Buff orpington chick, four weeks old

I'm going to do this experiment at first by raising the chickens in pens on wood chips, and then repeat it later this year with the birds on grass, to see how pasture changes their feed consumption.  Everyone assumes that pasturing the birds reduces their feed consumption, but I don't know anyone who's actually tested that idea -- and even it if has been tested, I'd like to know the results on my land with my feed and my bird suppliers.


Anonymous said...

I am going to try central hatchery this year for cornish cross. about 75 cents with shipping.


Anonymous said...


I look forward to the results of your experiment. I did the same thing but not nearly to the exacting numbers you will be using. I found the Cornish X out grows the others. Since I only grow the meat birds for my friends and family I have pledged to NEVER raise another Cornish x again. They are the nastiest and dumbest bird on earth. The cost savings is not worth the hassel of having to deal with them on a twice daily basis.

Just one man's opinion


StefRobrts said...

I'm interested to see your results. I found when I was raising buff orpington chicks last year that it takes so long to grow them to eating size (20 weeks from what I've read) I finally gave up and sold them around 14 weeks and said if I want to raise meat birds, next time I'm getting cornish cross. Even though the BO were free since my hens laid and raised them, they eat so much, and take so long to grow, I think it's got to be cheaper to get the cornish cross, feed them 8-10 weeks and be done with it. Also the BO rooster we did raise to full size and butcher had such skimpy breasts, he wasn't good for much but stew.

I'll watch to see what your results are.

Bruce King said...

.75 cents is a good price. I've found that the quality of chicks varies even from the same hatchery. Sometimes they grow like mad, other times, not so much.

It takes a certain amount of feed per pound of chicken produced. what I'm interested in is whether the feed costs are about the same per pound (but over a longer time) with the heritage breeds.

I'd also like to have a much better idea of the exact costs of raising a bird; if I don't know what it costs to raise 'em, I don't have any idea if I'm making a profit at my current prices.

Angela said...

I would be very interested in these results. I am starting a pastured broiler business this year, and although I would rather use heritage breeds, I worry about cost and being able to sell a smaller breasted bird to my customers.
Thank you for taking on this endeavor and sharing your results.

RevAllyson said...

Just ran across this. Consider Jersey Giants - that's what we're going with next year. The Cornish X's are so heavy and grow so fast that they have massive leg and other problems. This last batch we did were riddled with bad gizzards. We were extremely disappointed. Jerseys are a bit longer to grow (probably about 12 to 14 weeks) but have more breast than wing/leg meat and taste just fine. The cost is a little higher but not nearly as much as the hassle of losing most of your chickens to flip or the inability to walk from the waterer to the feeder.

Anonymous said...

New hampshires were grow before the Cornish X as the commercial meat bird and are a rapid growing breed, though not as fast as cornish x . However, they can forage more effectively and are much more fun to deal with.
I was thinking of a breeding a new hampshire rooster with dark cornish to produce a bird with both the growth of a new hampshire and the large breast size of a dark cornish. I used to raise australorps for poultry shows and they were slow to develop.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the insight on cornish. I have 24 now 3 1/2 wks. Have the leg problems and are more vulnerable with high daytime temps. I chuckled at the descriptions of activity. I've already decided to never do them again and will watch this thread for suggestions on the best breed to do next time for meat birds. One thing to keep in mind is that we're not going to get rich raising chicks but we will not have to eat all of the growth hormone and steroids that are used in the chick growing factories.

Anonymous said...

We raise the Cornish Cross and have very little problems with them. Actually ours are very active, alert, curious and seem friendly. We have often exclaimed how much we enjoy them and prefer them to our Plymouth Rocks. We give our Cornish Rocks only organic, non-medicated, non-gmo grains and ample room to run, perch, climb and, yes, even fly. Our birds eat lots of grass and are often seen running down grassy hillsides or climbing into bushes for leaves. People that eat our cornish cross rocks say they are full of flavor, tender yet firm - not mushy. We think it's all in how you raise them and if the parent stock was healthy.