by Jennifer Sartell of Iron Oak Farm
I always look forward to Fair time. The poultry barn will be filled with interesting breeds of chickens. Beautiful specimens of Silver Laced Wyandottes, Crested Polish and Rhode Island Reds to name a few. The breeds on display boast near perfect plumage, wonderful body type, clean smooth legs…everything a healthy chicken is supposed to be.
And then you get to the “Meat Bird” section of the barn. All of these cages are filled with one breed…The Cornish Cross.
The Cornish Cross, or Broiler is a hybrid breed crossing a Cornish with a Plymouth Rock. The resulting bird is fast growing, reaching table weight at around 8 weeks. This quick maturing, large breed makes it a cost effective investment with good feed conversion. Now for someone who wants to raise a meat bird, this would seem to be the breed to get. And I would agree, until you see a broiler in person.
Upon rounding the “Meat Bird” section of the fair, there’s no denying that these birds look different from their egg laying/dual purpose, show bird cousins on the other side of the barn.
Last year at the fair I remembered a specific incident where a little girl tugged on her mother’s shirt tails and asked “Mom, why are those chickens so ugly?” The mom considered this for a moment and then answered. “I think that’s just the kind of chicken they are.”
I had to agree with the little girl. Their bloated bodies flopped awkwardly to one side because their bloated legs couldn’t support the weight. Many were laboring to breath and more than half of their feathers were missing. Frankly, they looked miserable.
The reason these birds look like this is because this particular cross creates a chicken that will outgrow its own body functions. Usually their heart, lungs and legs can’t support the rapid growth and the chicken essentially eats itself to death.
Now I realize that there are many different reasons why people raise their own meat birds. But I would assume that many are doing it for health reasons, wanting to know where your food comes from or because they don’t agree with factory farming practices.
A common experience that I’ve witnessed among friends who raise chickens is that they have their standard chicken flock who lay eggs. Fluffy, the Rhode Island Red; Bertha, the Speckled Sussex, etc. etc. Then if they decide to raise meat birds they pick up a dozen Cornish Cross, raise them to 8 weeks and either process them, or have someone do it for them.
What I find ironic is the difference in standard that we accept for each type of flock. If Fluffy stops laying her eggs we want to know why, if Muffin loses her feathers we want to know why, if Goldie can’t walk we want to know why. Yet the Cornish Cross embraces many health problems and it is simply dismissed as “oh that’s just that breed.”
It’s great to keep our egg layers healthy, but in my opinion, if I had to choose, I would much rather the actual chicken that I’m going to eat directly be as healthy as possible vs. an egg which is somewhat a secondary product. And as a side note, many times an unhealthy chicken won’t lay eggs. Interestingly, most broilers don’t live long enough to even lay eggs if given the chance. I believe that’s food for thought.
Much of processing your own meat is a labor of passion. Butchering chickens in your own backyard is hard. It’s a messy, stinky job and can be somewhat emotional for many. Which in my opinion, is a good thing. I feel that it’s important for people who eat meat to partake in some sort of animal slaughter at least once in their lives. It reenforces appreciation, and awareness of the sacrifice that is made to bring food to the table each day. To look an animal in the eyes and take it’s life to sustain your own should be an important decision done with gratitude and respect.
So as someone who raises backyard meat birds, and takes the time and effort to process our own chickens, I feel passionately that we choose a breed that reflects an animal in good health. Both for the sake of the animal and our own well being.
Now, I have no scientific proof that eating a Cornish Cross is bad for your health, but I do know that those birds look miserable and unhealthy. All I ask is that if you’re considering meat birds, before you decide on the Cornish Cross consider raising a heritage breed. We’ve had great luck with Sussex’s and this year we are trying Jersey Giants. They’re slower to grow and might cost more to raise, but they’re bright eyed, energetic and have lived a good, healthy life. That’s something I feel comfortable feeding my family.
What is your opinion on the Cornish Cross? Am I missing something? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with this breed. Feel free to share a comment below, or visit the Community Chicken’s Facebook Page.