Heritage Breed vs. Cornish Cross - A tale of 2 chickens
When my husband and I first started homesteading we purchased Cornish Cross meat chickens to harvest for meat and heritage breeds for eggs. I had heard horror stories of Cornish Cross chickens not being able to walk, growing to fast, dying and being sickly. But since they had the best feed to meat conversion rate we thought we would give it a shot. We had heard they don't pasture very well and are extremely lazy. But we thought we would give it a shot and see what happened.
We purchased 25 chickens our first go around and started them on a 24% protein chick grower feed. They grew fast and they grew big. However, we had no deaths, no sickly chickens and they were happy to forage around the chicken house. So they ate plenty of bugs, nibbled on grass and clover and whatever veggie scraps I could scrounge up. When we harvested them we had chickens ranging from 5.5-7.5 pnds. They were plump, juicy and of course the signature trade mark of the Cornish Cross is the extra breast meat.
So we went along raising an additional 50 for a total of 75 Cornish Cross that year and lost ZERO chicks, and gave ZERO antiobiotics. However, I kept hearing that Cornish Cross were a frankenstein cross bred chicken and we should be raising heritage breed chickens for meat. So we decided to try it out and see how the heritage breed meat and chicken experience turned out for us.
Our first purchase we bought 25 Red Rangers from McMurray Hatchery. I was excited to see what the difference would be in taste and growing rates for these chickens. I already knew they would take longer to raise and their feed to meat conversion would be much less. They would take longer to grow and require more feed thus costing us more. Around 10 weeks old when the chicks started to get sick. Slowly each day I would go out to the chicken coop and I would find another dead chicken. Out of 25 Red Rangers, we harvested 7 chickens. I believe the chicks must have been exposed to a respiratory virus while at the hatchery since we have never lost a chick or hen until now.
So needless to say we have decided to raise both. We are raising heritage breed chickens and have increased the cost per pound to cover the additional expense for those customers who want a heritage chicken. And we have gone back to raising Cornish Cross for the other customers and ourselves. If you raise the Cornish Cross correctly and start them on a 19% grower feed, give them access to fresh water and encourage them to go outside and pasture you should not experience any problems. They grow to harvesting size in about 7-9 weeks when fed 19% grower feed and then finish them out the last 2 weeks with finisher feed. We use an organic nongmo feed and provide plenty of fresh water, green grass and bugs. These chickens are very tasty, plump and juicy and provide plenty of breast meat for those of you who prefer it. These chickens are not going to be as active as your heritage breed chicken or even a hybrid cross egg/meat chicken. However, if you watch how much you feed them, and do not over feed them they will forage to make up the difference for what you don't give them in feed and the extra excersize helps to keep them from putting on so much weight so fast.
I suggest you do your own experiment and see which you prefer. If you are interested in being able to keep your costs down as much as possible and still raise a healthy, tasty, pasture raised chicken the Cornish Cross will work great. Don't believe all they hype, decide for yourself.