Wednesday, March 30, 2011

everyman's steer

The meat chicks are now living outside and thriving in the spring sunshine. (The dozen layers are still inside the brooder, but without any heat lamp.) They were welcomed into the coop without much fuss. The other birds mostly ignore them, and they spend their days walking around learning to scratch, hunt, and cause chicken-level trouble. At about a month old, these Jumbo Cornish Crosses are already halfway to harvest weight. In about a month I'll have a freezer full of enough chicken to get me a homegrown Sunday roaster for 5 months!

A lot of folks ask why I don't raise a breeding, sustainable, flock of meat birds that can reproduce? My answer to that is: I do. It's called my laying flock! You can eat any chicken, including slower-growing heavy breeds like the Orpingtons and Brahmas, and I would certainly raise their chicks for meat birds some day when Cold Antler is more along the path to being self-sufficient. However, right now I am a 9-5 office worker with an oil furnace... I order my meat birds with gusto.

So many folks look at the Cornish Cross as an industrial mutant, but hell, I like them. They get the job done right, and fast. I also like raising meat animals that were bred to be meat animals. For example, you could make hamburgers out of a Jersey cow, but certainly you would gain more value out of their milk. So cattle bred for beef like angus and herefords were developed. Same goes for these big Cornish birds. They are the angus chicken. They grow true, make delicious healthy food, and can be harvested right at home with little tools and supplies. They are everyman's steer.

I have heard horror stories about these guys though. About them not moving in pastured tractors. About broken legs and exploding hearts, but I have never experienced anything like that. I have found if let them live outdoors while their bodies are growing—free ranging across a farm—they grow strong and beautiful. They need space, not just a movable pen, and if given that freedom they learn to support those hefty frames. There is still one of last year's meat birds (same jumbo cross variety) in the barn. He missed last year's harvest season so he's earned his place to live out his life as a scrappy barnyard bird, which he does. I call him Castro. He just never dies.

And you may not ever want to raise an animal that was designed to be breasts and thighs and not a functioning breeding animal. I get that. But I still have a fondness for these chunks. They aren't perfect. That is true. But if you are looking for a model of perfection, man, have you ever come to the wrong blog....


Blogger Tami said...

I thought about raising some of the cornish x here on my urban plot. I have layers so chickens are not new. The lady at the feed store said they are very noisy however and didn't suggest it. She told me if I wanted some birds to raise for meat (on my city lot) then the rhode island reds would fill out nicely and quickly. I'm less than impressed with their growth rate. My orps and australorps are filling out better. have the cornish x been a load bird for you?

March 30, 2011 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I butchered the Partridge Rock and Silver Lace Wyandotte roosters last fall. Not the best chicken I've ever eaten but their bodies make good soup. A couple of my Jumbo Cornish Xs had heart failure right in front of me. I'm going to try Freedom Rangers this year.

March 30, 2011 at 8:32 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Tami, I don't recall the Cornish being noisey. They just ate, drank, pooped and sat in it to sleep and started all over again. Mine didn't venture out side unless they fell out the chicken door.

March 30, 2011 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Tami, my Cornish crosses are only four weeks old and about two-three pounds each!

Doglady, sorry you had that experience. It is opposite of my own though. I would like to try the Freedom Rangers sometime myself.

March 30, 2011 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

I still have one of my cornish x left over from last year. He will be going on a year now and still is top dog in the yard. He contends with a BLR wynadotte and a salmon favorelle rooster. He is definatley the ruler of the roost. However I don't find them to be louder then the other chickens. I actually think his crow is a little more muffled then the other two roosters, same for the hen's. Then may be more chatty, but are at least quiet about it.

March 30, 2011 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

OMG, I love your concluding sentence on on this post! Says it all.

I also love the idea behind Castro's name. Sounds like you were in a good mood when you wrote this! Cheers, and happy spring (fingers crossed!).

March 30, 2011 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

That's why we love your blog; you share some of your imperfections and that gives encouragement and support for decisions and mistakes we all make, too.

March 30, 2011 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger Tracy Bruring said...

Jenna I kept 2 or my last years cornsh crosses. They have learned to move around. At first out of the cage they just laid on the floor until feeding time. Then they started slowly moving which isn't easy on them. But they hang together. They are both hens so i wonder if they will start laying?

March 30, 2011 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Bullwinkle said...

As a devoted reader, very infrequent commenter and awed-bystander (you amaze me), I have to tell you that I laughed out loud, at 5 a.m as I read that last line today. Thanks for the delightful start.

March 31, 2011 at 5:22 AM  
Blogger Stoney said...

Amen on the Cornish X, which I have raised for over 20 years. Heart failure can occur if you fail to set it up right for them. They need fresh air, walking around spaces, fresh grass. I train mine to know that when they leave the coop in the morning, after having no feed all night, just water, that they will be walking to locate their grain. Amazing how fast they learn to walk and run towards the grain pan. It gets moved every day farther and farther away so they are forced to exercise.
These tasty birds make the greatest soup stock ever known. I have tasted grass fed Freedom Rangers. I will stick to Cornish X. Good luck on your farm, Jenna.

March 31, 2011 at 6:37 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

It would be very easy to set up an incubator and raise your own chicks- that way you know just who they come from and you are responsible for them from the beginning to the end- and not funding mass production facilities... I am very exp in incubating all sort of bird eggs, so if you want a few tips, I am here :)
-Just a suggestion

March 31, 2011 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Tami said...

We have 50+ Cornish in our barn right their taste! Although they are the messiest birds we have ever raised, we don't mind them for the 7-8 weeks we have to deal with them. It is easiest way we know of to get good, homegrown birds in our freezer! We have never let ours free range, just keep them in a large pen with constant bedding changes. Enjoy your Sunday dinners!

March 31, 2011 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

We are just getting up to butchering our remaining Red Broilers from Christmas. I had expected them to be larger but a carcass w/bones weighed out at about 4lbs for roosters and since the three females were doing okay we let them go a few more weeks.

I was debating buying the cornish X's this past week when my feed store had buy 2 get 1 free but I didn't because I went a little crazy buying laying bird chicks and larger fowl. ::blush::

March 31, 2011 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Lara Katherine Mountain Colley said...

Great post, Jenna! If you want a stew bird, or a chicken and dumplings bird, any old barnyard breed will do, but after a long string of chicken roasting failures (boy, could I tell you some stories), I am a firm believer that the cornish X are what you want for Sunday dinner.

March 31, 2011 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Mama Mess said...

I love these birds as well and we raise and butcher 25 of them every year. Thanks for a great post! We call them the "Arnold" chickens and they are delicious! ;0)

March 31, 2011 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I've raised Freedom Rangers a few times and really like them. This is what I raise for things like roasting, smoking, pan frying, etc. Big, meaty, juicy and tender. I tried raising a batch of laying breeds just for meat once, and was quite disappointed. At 12 weeks they were tiny, bland and already getting chewy. We do, however butcher a certain portion of our older laying flock (and excess roosters) and use them for canning and stewing, and for that purpose they are DIVINE. There's just nothing better with dumplings than tough old rooster. So we do old layers for stewing and young broilers for everything else, and I feel like we get the best of both worlds this way.

March 31, 2011 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I greatly enjoy reading your blog. In this post you very eloquently describe what I view as the definition of sustainable and ethical farming - humane treatment of animals that may have been bred for food but nonetheless deserve time in the sunshine and good forage before they end up in the freezer. Excellent.

March 31, 2011 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

I have to agree with the fans of the Cornish cross: Just got my first batch in the mail yesterday, and I am looking forward to a new supply of happy, healthy chickens in my freezer. Since I live on a small lot (3/4 Acre Farm :-D ), I don't let mine range. I tend to bring the "range" to them, with daily doses of fresh greens and grass clippings raked up and brought to them daily. They are messy, mostly because they like to eat a lot which creates a lot of, well, you know. But keeping up on the mucking out of their cozy shed really helps! I've also found that if I put their waterer inside of a rubber tub on top of a cinder block, there is a lot less greedy water spillage. They do better if I let their feed run out by the end of the day--as a newbie, I fed them round the clock and got some seriously fatty birds. This year, I'm recruiting them to build me a couple of new raised beds by building a stationary outdoor pen and doing daily layers of fresh straw. According to Andy Lee (in Chicken Tractor), the birds do well and you end up with a really nice new planting bed. I figure it will celebrate the lives of these birds for many years, long after they have passed on and become memorable meals.

March 31, 2011 at 6:49 PM  
Blogger carrie said...

Hi Jenna,
I also raise the cornish cross chickens for eating. I've tried other varieties but found they weren't as finger licking good. I was wondering if you vaccinate your birds or if you use medicated feed for the first weeks. I was also wondering what you use to sterilize your chicken house.

April 1, 2011 at 10:53 AM  

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