Raising Cornish Cross birds for meat? Learn the math of planning ahead to budget for feed, and track your bird’s weight gains.
This is part of a series of articles on Cornish Cross broiler management. Here are links to the other parts of the series:
Raising Cornish Cross broilers for meat can be a great family adventure and, most of all, delicious. But it can also be disappointing; you may lose a few broilers along the way, or, worse yet, your broilers may develop poor weight gains, translating into increased feed costs.
Working Toward Self-Sufficiency…
Since relocating to my farmstead, my goal has been self-reliance and sustainability, producing a majority of my food. To do that takes planning vegetable gardens, maintaining layer chickens, and raising Cornish Cross broilers. It’s not a hobby for me. The aim is to produce food in the most cost-efficient way with reasonable effort. Through trial and error, I’ve landed on a management approach for raising Cornish Cross broilers that mimics commercial broiler operations in terms of confinement, feed, and keeping record of the broilers’ progress.
…And Cost Efficiency
This cost-efficient approach I’ve shared in previous articles will have your broilers ready for the freezer at 42 to 49 days and at 4-to-6-pound finish weights. Any longer and you begin to lose meat quality and will spend a lot more money and effort. Cornish Cross broilers at 56 days begin to produce noticeably more manure and consume much more feed, with the amount of your effort increasing nearly twofold. And, at the cost of quality, high-protein feed, it gets very expensive to feed broilers beyond 56 days. After a couple years of less-than-stellar results, most folks blame the Cornish Cross and move on to other interests.
A Simple Cornish Cross Broiler Tracker
Getting off to a good start with your flock of Cornish Cross broilers requires more than good preparation; it also depends on the quality of the day-old chicks arriving from the hatchery. When the chicks arrive, the first thing I do is open the shipping box and assess the overall quality of the chicks. Pay attention to uniformity – chicks should look the same.
Count the chicks to determine the exact number you received. Sometimes hatcheries will add one or two extra chicks. Assuming the number of chicks you received can skew your records, distorting overall feed consumption data later on. I count twice and enter that number into the record. It’s the single most important data point because all calculations will be based on this number.
When transferring the day-old chicks from the shipping box to the brooder, I always weigh 5 to 6 chicks to get a good idea of the initial weight of the entire clutch. Averaging those weights is my second entry into the record.
Keeping track of feed is also important because it helps determine how well your broiler chicks will perform. Tracking feed also helps you estimate the amount and cost necessary to bring your broilers to finish.
As time goes on, I take random weight of 5 to 6 chicks, average those weights, and enter it into the record. I compare my results with the averages provided by the hatchery where I purchased the chicks. If the average weight of my chicks is lower than the charted weights at the same age, I need to assess what’s happening. Has it been cold and rainy or hot and sweltering? Weather does impact Cornish Cross growth rates. But I also consider a number of other factors, such as adequate feeder space for all chicks to easily eat to their fill. A little observation will help identify the problem, which may be as simple as a waterer that’s a little high to reach.
If I don’t readily see anything amiss, I examine the feed to make sure it’s not molded, has an off smell, or shows signs of anything else unusual. Then I check the waterer to make sure there isn’t a buildup of algae in the lines, or manure or debris kicked into the waterer tray. You’ll be able to see what might be the problem, but most importantly, you’ll be able to remedy the situation before it really takes a toll on the broilers’ progress. Ironically, when you track the chicks this closely, you’ll typically not run into large differences in actual and projected growth.
Here Comes the Nerdy Part
A simple table, pencil, scale, and calculator will work to track your broilers’ progress. From there, you can make it simpler or more complex. Here’s an example of how I track weight across the growth of my broilers.
I use receipt date as my first date and enter all other dates at weekly intervals. To make comparison easier with the Aviagen Breeders Weight and Feed Chart (above), I identify the chicks’ ages with a week number and also the representative number of days. I enter the weekly weights from the Breeders Weight and Feed Chart. If you order a straight run, simply average the Male and Female weights and enter that average. Each week, I weigh a representative sample of 5 to 6 chicks and enter the average. Once set up, record-keeping is pretty simple. Every week, fill in the yellow cells:
Feed can be tracked by recording the number of bags purchased, noting the dates purchased, and noting the cost. Over the course of raising the Cornish Cross broilers, I can see how consumption increases, and I can budget for when I raise broilers in the future.
Once the broilers are processed, I calculate total cost to raise them. The sum of the cost of the birds themselves, supplements, and feed give me the total cost. From there, I can divide by the number of birds. And by weighing each butchered carcass and recording, I can then calculate the average cost per pound finished weight.
Once you have the recorded values, including record of live weight and process weight for each broiler, you can then calculate the Feed Conversion Rate (FCR) for your broiler flock. FCR is the number of pounds of feed required to gain 1 pound of body weight. For me, the FCR is the gold standard. If your FCR calculates higher than the breeders’ performance standards, you need to re-evaluate how you raise Cornish Cross broilers.
FCR = total pound Feed/body weight
Intake = total feed/#birds
Weight = live weight average
From the numbers above, you can see that my broilers, even though they were under Aviagen’s average weight, ate less feed to achieve it, resulting in my overall Feed Conversion Rate to be slightly better than Aviagen’s average performance. This proves to me that my overall management approach in raising Cornish Cross broilers works.
Anne Gordon is a backyard chicken owner with a modest chicken operation that includes layer chickens and Cornish Cross broilers. And, like many of you, she doesn’t sell eggs or meat – all production is for her personal consumption. She’s a longtime poultry keeper and writes from personal experience as a city girl who moved to the suburbs to raise a few chickens and now resides on a rural acreage. She’s experienced a lot with chickens over the years and learned lots along the way – some of it the hard way. She’s had to think out of the box in some situations yet held to tried-and-true traditions in others. Anne lives on Cumberland Mountain in Tennessee with her two English Springers, Jack and Lucy. You can follow her doings through her website, Life Around the Coop.