Cons - Foraging ability falls drastically around the eighth week.
As noted in a previous review of The S & G heritage white, there is not as much "Heritage" in this bird as some of would like, or would be led to believe by the information on S & G's website. The Hatchery however, has very friendly employees and they were great to work with. I asked more about this breed before I ordered and confirmed that it is a Hybrid. So they are a Cornish Cross, just a different variety than most hatcheries, which is supposed to be, and in my experience is, better tailored to being outside. Do not expect true breeding if you wanted to hatch your own.
That being said, I loved the birds, and they worked very well when paired with a chicken tractor. They arrived healthy, and I only lost one chick(slipped Achilles tendon). Yes, they get big fast and won't be able to climb ladders into coops. Yes, especially towards week 8 they lay down a lot, so if they aren't in a tractor with fresh grass under them, they will lay in their own poop. With these factors taken into consideration, plus no heart or respiratory problems even in the middle of a Georgia summer, I would highly recommend this bird for families or small farms that use a tractor or pastured approach.
I did not have a good experience with these birds. Here is the description from S&G's website:
"The Heritage White chicken comes from the old White Plymouth Rock stock. Its sturdy frame and well balanced body makes it a great meat bird, not like the sluggish Cornish Cross with its giant breast. Our bird is bred to perform outside where it can earn its keep using a keen sense of awareness along with great foraging ability. If you want a baby chick that’s healthy, grows well into a tasty chicken with good feed conversion and usually reaches market weight around nine weeks, try our Heritage White."
My experience with these birds did not at all match this description. I raised only six, so the sample size for evaluation was not large. One chick had a beak deformity and died young. Another was eaten by a raccoon. Only four were raised to butchering size.
I got these birds because after several years of keeping layers I wanted to do a batch for meat. I read the Cornish X horror stories of lame birds, sick birds, etc., and wanted a good alternative. I wanted birds that could range in the yard and be housed along with my layers.
The chicks started off well enough, eating eagerly and scratching with enthusiasm. They even attempted their first dust baths in the first couple of weeks. As they continued to grow, however, they slowed considerably. By week four they were showing signs of impaired mobility, resting on their breasts much of the time. By five weeks it was clear they could not be very active. Scratching either at the ground or their own itches was out of the question, as they could not balance on one foot long enough to lift the other. They lay in their feces a lot, and neglected the preening of their feathers. They had few resources for escaping predators or harassment from the layers, being unable to move very quickly or for very long. They did not get the hang of getting themselves to bed in the coop. They were unable to climb the chicken ladder. By butchering time, all had rubbed the feathers off their breasts to nothing but stubs and had calluses on their hocks.
I butchered the first at seven weeks. It was a rooster that I noticed had became unable to walk at all. Thus he could not feed or drink, as he could not maneuver himself to the feeder. On butchering, I discovered a broken leg, and his pelvic bone snapped in my hands. I do not know when this injury occurred, but it was possibly a failed attempt to navigate the chicken ladder. The other two I butchered at eight weeks, and they were fine birds save for an excess of internal fat, as noted by another poster here on BYC. The last hen will be butchered at nine weeks. Curiously, at this late date she is showing the most interest in foraging, and spends about ten minutes three times a day pecking in the grass.
You can't fault the quality of the meat. They are fine meat birds that gained in size quickly, and the meat is beautifully tender. But as I continued to live with these birds, I realized that they are better suited to indoor living, for so many reasons - predation, limited mobility, a tendency to pile anyway, etc. The hatchery description is completely inaccurate from my experience. If you are accustomed to active layers, and think of that as a "normal" chicken, these are not normal. If I do another set of meat chickens, I will definitely try some true heritage breeds or the Red Ranger before going back to these birds. I felt sorry for them. They couldn't even scratch an itch, or do any chicken work at all. This is a factory bird. Do not be misled by the hatchery description.