Some chickens were harmed in the making of this post. Don’t continue if you don’t want to see some pictures that might include dead chickens.
On Saturday, we butchered nearly 30 jumbo Cornish crosses. This is the first time we’ve done the jumbo Cornish. They are advertised as ready to butcher in 6 to 8 weeks, at which point they should dress out at 3 to 4 pounds. We butchered at 7 weeks. Here’s the good and the bad report, and lessons learned.
We got the chicks in March. We still had a lot of cold weather to come, and I don’t want to run a heat lamp in the barn due to the risk of fire in that situation, so we kept them in tubs in the cellar where there is a gas wall mount stove and we had overhead lights to give them light. They were warm enough in there, but due to their fast growth rate, they quickly outgrew the tubs, far more quickly than I anticipated. (Far more quickly than normal growth rate chicks would have outgrown the tubs.) Hey, when they say these chicks grow fast, believe ’em! Despite the fact that they had plenty of light and warmth, they were piling on each other due to the close quarters. When chicks pile on each other, they’ll smother or flatten each other. We lost a couple chicks, so we moved them to the barn, deciding–six of one, half a dozen of the other–might as well move them to the barn and give them more space if they’re going to pile on each other. In the barn, they had lights, but no heat source, so the piling continued despite the larger space and we lost several more. But we would have lost several more if we’d left them in the close quarters of the cellar in any case. In the end, we lost seven chicks out of the 35 and took 28 to butchering day. I’ll take the blame for the 7 losses–I shouldn’t have gotten chicks in March if I wasn’t going to put a heat lamp in the barn. Their growth rate was non-functional for keeping them in the confines of the cellar. Lesson learned! Next year, I won’t get meat chicks until late May or early June when the nighttime temperatures are warm enough to keep chicks in the barn.
We fed the chicks according to instructions. They received a special supplement that went on their feed the first day and a booster that went in their water daily. They were vaccinated at the hatchery and fed organic starter (non-medicated, because a medicated starter will nullify the vaccinations) then put on a broiler feed formulated for meat chickens after the first three weeks. At 10 days, you’re supposed to start taking their feed away at night to prevent them from growing so quickly that their pounds outpace their bodies’ ability to support them. This can help prevent leg injuries as these chickens are prone to splayed legs due to their fast growing breast size. It’s absolutely true what they say about these chicks–they’re sluggish, lazy, and interested in moving only to get to the food. Mostly, they didn’t even bother to run away from us when we’d go in to change their water or give them more feed. They definitely didn’t act like normal chickens….until butchering day. We took their feed away on Thursday night in preparation for Saturday morning slaughter. They had plenty of water, but no food. By Saturday morning, they were pretty rowdy, let me tell ya! I opened the stall door on Saturday morning and one of them actually flew up at me! In seven weeks, I’d barely seen them move, much less attempt to fly! Hunger made them a bit rapid, shall we say.
They had barely finished feathering out, by the way. They did lose their baby fluff and begin feathering much earlier than normal chicks, which results in a bare back look for a few weeks as the baby fluff falls off quickly and the feathers develop. They were fully feathered on butchering day, but those feathers had just come in, and they came off very easily, which was a plus.
They dressed out, after fully processing, to just over 3 pounds at 7 weeks, which is pretty amazing for 7 weeks and was within the 3 to 4 pound range advertised. The next batch that’s coming the third week of May will be raised for 9 weeks, and we’ll see what the difference is in the dress-out weight at that point. Because we’ll be starting them in warmer weather, that should also impact their final weight. It’s not recommended to keep jumbo Cornish longer than 9-10 weeks because of leg problems or heart attacks, so we’ll see if we lose any because of those issues in this next round.
Overall, despite some problems (and mistakes), we were really pleased with the jumbo Cornish and will continue to raise them. 1) The fast growing time. It’s a pain to raise chicks. I like raising them for a shorter period of time. Less work! Regular Cornish crosses have to be raised to at least 12 weeks to butcher. 2) The meat is young, tender, juicy, and they really do pack on the pounds in a short time span. 3) The butchering process was easier. (Hide your eyes if you can’t handle this part.) They struggled less at butchering. (Didn’t have to worry about them running around like, uh, chickens with their heads cut off.) Their feathers–which had just barely grown in–loosened quicker in scalding. They plucked quickly in the plucker–and made less mess to clean up because they didn’t have as many feathers as a chicken that was older would have had.
Saturday was a butchering workshop, and we had a full class of 14 people here to learn. We had stations set up and attendees could go through and do each stage in the process twice. They were an enthusiastic bunch, and all but one of them did their own chicken throat-cutting. (And even the one who didn’t cut a chicken’s throat did go on to do everything else.) Rodney manned the killing station, which was an upside down traffic cone screwed to a fence post with a bucket under the cone to catch the blood and for the heads.
I supervised the scalding and plucking stations. The scalder was a propane-heated turkey fryer.
The plucker was an electric tub plucker (EZ Plucker 1-2) from Murray McMurray Hatchery.
My cousin manned the cutting table. (In this photo, it was before we started butchering and he was giving some instructions on the cutting process and knife work before we got started.)
We started butchering around 10:15 and had 28 chickens fully processed by 12:15. The chickens were vacuum packed and put in the freezer. Every attendee took home one chicken. In the afternoon, we did pressure canning with chicken, and everyone made egg/garden wood and wire baskets. (The chicken that was used for the pressure canning class came from the old roosters we’d butchered a month ago. That meat would be tough, so it fully benefited from the pressure canning process. I wouldn’t want to can any of the tender jumbo Cornish!) It was a great day, and I was happy to have so many genuinely enthusiastic people here who were serious about learning to provide their own meat. There were far more women here than men. One told me that her husband always did their butchering and she wanted to learn to do it herself, she was done letting the men do it and just bring her the chicken to cook as if that was all she could do! And she added that she really appreciated the opportunity to learn it from another woman. People came in twos and threes, and some people came by themselves, so don’t think you need a partner to come with you if you want to learn when we do this again on July 30. Trust me, when everyone’s killin’ chickens, everyone becomes friends fast! It’s definitely an experience!
I’ve got another chicken processing workshop day coming up on July 30 with the next batch of jumbo Cornish. That workshop is already half-filled, but I still have spaces left if you want to join us! Check out the information for the chicken processing workshop here.
P.S. Not into butchering chickens? I have other workshops! See my Retreats & Workshops page.
Jersey Lady says:
Glad to see you gave the cornish crosses a try. We have done 25 roosters several years with good results. We get ours a little later and do use the heat lamps. We butcher at 8 weeks and they all dress out at 6 lbs or better. Yes, we take the feed away too. They are not very fun chickens-mostly just eat and poop.They do not roost, just sleep on the ground. Ours do not run around much, but we do make them go outside during the day if it is nice after they are feathered out. We have an outside run for them that has chicken wire on the top too. We put their food and water out with them. We have several feeders and waterers so they can all eat and drink at once if they want. They end up looking like volleyballs. Good luck with your next batch. Hugs, Gloria
One year we did roosters of a mix of heavy breeds. We processed them at 14 weeks. They dressed out at 4 lbs. They were fun and foraged and roosted. But all in all, we like the amount of meat we get from the cornish crosses. Not much fun, but quick and easy. I think the warmer temps makes a difference in the gain and survive rate. Late spring or early fall seems to work best for us to avoid any temp extremes. We are in E IN.
On May 2, 2016 at 10:56 am
This was an interesting post. From your warning at the beginning I prepared myself for a little more graphic photos than displayed. All in all this is totally new territory for someone whose chicken comes from the grocery store already for cooking and wrapped in plastic. Thanks Suzanne for showing those of us who aren’t even remotely near a farm what this life is like.
On May 2, 2016 at 11:30 am
Curious about the reason you didn’t use medicated feed. You said it was because they were inoculated at the hatchery. I was told they are inoculated for Mareks but the medicated feed is to protect them from coccidiosis and doesn’t affect the Mareks inoculation. Thoughts?
On May 2, 2016 at 12:17 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
I had both done, so they also had the coccidiosis vaccination. If you use medicated it will nullify the vaccination.
On May 2, 2016 at 12:19 pm
Thank you for the post. I’m curious to know if you saved any money versus buying chicken on sale,such as thighs for $0.39/pound or breasts for $0.99/pound. I know you know exactly what went in to the chicken as far as anitbiotics and meds, so that is a plus. I love to keep chickens but I love to save money more.
On May 2, 2016 at 4:41 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
If you want the cheapest chicken you can buy, shopping sales at grocery stores is the way to go. Growing your own chickens isn’t the cheapest chicken in the world. How much the chicks cost depends on where you buy them and the quantity. For the quantity I bought, it was $2.44 per chick from Murray McMurray. I can’t remember how much the starter feed was since I haven’t bought that for several weeks, but the meat raiser feed they were getting for the past month was $14.99 per 50 pound bag, and we went through at least four of them, maybe five. The starter feed was more per bag, and we went through three of them, I think. You don’t raise your own chicken because you’re looking for the cheapest chicken. You raise your own chicken for the best chicken.
On May 3, 2016 at 6:23 am
This was a great post! I’ve never processed a bird myself, but I’ve thought about it. I contemplated getting a chicken plucker, but having a friend who runs a USDA certified meat processing shop that vacu-seals the birds when they’re done, I’d rather pay him to do it (call me lazy).
I’ve done the jumbos twice and had great results from them. I let them go about 9 weeks and didn’t have a one under 5 lbs – most were in the 6-7 lb range and a few topped out at 9-10. This year, I’m trying Red Rangers. They’re about a month and a half old, and outpacing the layers by almost double. but not as rapidly as the jumbos did. And they’re far more active, like regular chicks. I’m hoping the night temps will start warming, so I can kick them out of the basement and into the tractor…because they still stink!!
On May 2, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
Pipertml, I can’t WAIT to raise them to 9 weeks with this next round!
On May 3, 2016 at 6:23 am
We’ve given up on buying in meat chickens for a number of reasons. They are complete travesties of chickens that cant run without dragging their breast (because they carry the gene for double the breast meat) so they lose their breast feathers from friction. After getting used to eating the young male ofspring of our barnyard chooks, they (and the supermarket offerings) seemed tasteless. And while the older barnyarders were tough, we found the texture of the meat birds (and supermarket chicken) to be ‘soft’ rather than ‘tender’.
On May 7, 2016 at 2:14 am
We’ve raised these Cornish Rocks for years. We usually get them at the same time as the year’s laying chicks and raise them together. These Cornish are the hardiest birds I have ever seen. They eat fast and furious and grow the same way- 10 weeks and they are the freezer! We usually grow only one batch a year because of our extreme temperatures and, like Suzanne, I don’t like to use the electricity for extended periods of time to keep them warm. So we purchase them in July and harvest in September just after the fly season. Perfect.
We’ve easily had 5-7 pound birds. I’ve never had one die of unknown causes (a few neighboring dog attacks don’t count). They are active along with our little laying pullets. One of my sons picks out the best of the bunch and shows a trio in our county fair for 4H. (He takes care of the birds anyway.) These are a good meat for us to grow. If you are uncertain or you have questions, email me. I’d be happy to talk to you ☺.
On May 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm
I so wish I could attend this, or any of your workshops! I’d even stay overtime to do cleaning detail!
On May 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm