Meaties 101

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by bigredfeather, Jan 6, 2011.

  1. bigredfeather

    bigredfeather Songster

    Oct 1, 2008
    Yorkshire, Ohio
    With so many newbies asking questions on raising Cornish X’s, I thought I would put together a post on how I raise them. I am not saying my way is the only way or the right way, but it is how I do it. I have had great livability percentages and great final results using this method. So, here it goes.

    The Brooder
    When I am expecting an order of CX chicks (I get mine from Eagle Nest Poultry in Oceola, Ohio and have been very pleased with their chicks), the first thing to get ready is the brooder. If I haven’t already done it, the day before they arrive, I put down fresh wood shavings, starting with 1-2”. I also plug in the heat lamp, fill the waterer, and fill the feed tray. You always want newly arrived chicks to have water to drink that is not tap water temp, as it can bring down their body temp very quickly. At the direction of my hatchery, I put 1 Tbsp of molases per gallon of water for the first few days. My brooders are 5’x9’, and I hang 2 heat lamps about a foot apart in the center of the brooder. Just like other chicks, CX’s know what temp they need, and will move in and out from under the lamp as needed. By placing it in the center, it keeps brooder temp uniform and at the same time, allows them ample room to move away from the heat. As far as size of the brooder, I figure ¾ of a sqft/chick, assuming they are going to be in there for 3 weeks. You could put more, but I have found unless you are going to change litter daily, this is about the right density. I still have to rebed, but only 2-3 times in 3 weeks. Under no circumstances will I ever brood them in my house. They are fine for the first few days, but after that the smell and the dander will drive you nuts. I have a simple rule, NO LIVESTOCK IN THE HOUSE!

    They’re Here
    When the chicks arrive, they promptly go to the prewarmed brooder. After putting them in, I will stand there and observe them for a few minutes. After a few hours, I go back and check again. If they are all huddled under the lamp, I move the lamp down a little to increase the brooder temp. If they are going about their business, I leave it alone. I have my lamps on small chains and attach them to hooks, allowing me to easily adjust the height. I have found that the sooner you can wean them from the heat, the quicker they will feather. After the first week, weather permitting, I will unplug the heat lamp during the warmest part of the day for a bit, increasing the time a little each day. In doing this, it allows me to get them out of the brooder and into the tractor by at least 3 weeks of age. During warmer weather, I have gotten them out to the pasture as early as 2 weeks.

    Cornishes are eating machines. It still amazes me how much they can eat. As a rough guide, I figure a total of 18-20 pounds per chick. I use a custom made 22% feed from my mill from start to finish. I am finding out from others on here that you can lower the protein percentage after 5 weeks and still get good results, but I choose to stick with only 1 type of feed. Cornishes will literally eat themselves to death if allowed, so it is important not to overfeed them. Most will suggest feeding them 24/7 for the first 2 weeks and then 12 hours w/ feed and 12 w/out. I agree with this, as it does keep their growth at a pace that will keep their livability % higher. I, however, have been going about it differently. I give them only the amount of feed I want them to consume in a day. I have a chart that gives the approximate daily food consumption for up to 8 weeks. I found the chart on here a while back, and have found it very useful. I have modified it to my liking, and always have average weights of 4-5 pounds in 8 weeks, while having almost no flips. Sure you can feed them more and get them bigger faster, but for me, the reassurance of not losing a bird at the 6 week mark to CHF is well worth it. Staring from day one, I always make sure all of them have a “place at the table” when feed is given. I place my feeders in the tractor as far away from the water supply as possible so they are forced do more activity. At this point from experience, I know at what mark I need to add feeder space. To figure it out, after you give them feed, just make sure they all fit at the feeder. If they don’t, add more feeder space.

    CX’s will drink a tremendous amount of water in a days time, especially in warm weather. Just like other breeds, it is important to have clean water in front of them at all times. After 5 weeks of age, it is nothing for 80 of them to drink over 10 gallons a day.

    I use the tractor method. As stated above, I most always have them out to pasture by 3 weeks. It is very helpful for them to start to eat greens at this age, as the nutrition in the greens result in much healthier birds. I am also a firm believer that the amount of sunlight they get from being outside is beneficial. My pasture mix is a horse pasture blend of white clover and 4 or 5 types of grass hay. The birds love the clover. As soon as I start to move the tractor, most of them will move to the front to get to the new pasture. My tractors are 10’x10’, and I put right at 70 per, giving them around 1.5 sqft per bird. Tractor density is more important than people think. If you have them too dense, it is tough to keep enough feed in front of them and some will get shorted, resulting in some smaller birds. If you don’t have it dense enough, they will not grow as well due to lack of competition. Not sure of the science behind it, but I can tell you from experience it is a factor. At any rate, I am happy with the results I get with this density. I move the tractor at least once a day, twice on the weekends or when I am home all day. One thing I see asked over and over is if you can house CX and layers together. In my opinion, no. CX and layer have very different needs, and I don not like the idea of keeping them together. I know some people do and are successful, but I never have and never will.
    Here are a few pics of my tractors and dolly. Both are inspired by Joel Salatin.

    This is the part of raising meat birds that get people. It seems either a person has no problems or worries about, or they just refuse to try it or even think about it. I have seen many on here that say there is no way they could ever butcher a chicken, but after doing it say, "It wasn't that bad." IMHO, if you're going to take the time to raise your own food humanely, you might as well do it from start to finish. Afterall, you just spent 8 weeks catering to their every need, why stop now. I am not going to go into the actual process as there are many other great guides to processing already on here. I would like to discuss pre and post processing.

    It is important (at least to me) that the crops of the birds be empty prior to processing. To accomplish this, I take their feed away 12-18 hours prior to butchering. After 12 hours, the crop will be empty, but they will still have an abundance of partially digested feed in their digestive track. At 18 hours, the tract will be much emptier. After you process a few times, you will come to realize the longer you withhold feed the better. I am considering trying taking it away for at 24 hours prior to see if the tract will completly empty. I do keep water in front of them as long as possible. The night before processing, I load my birds up in the back of my pick-up truck with the topper on with a fountain waterer in there. In the morning I just reach in and grab birds as needed. I like this because it doesn't keep them in crates overnight, and they are able to drink as needed.

    After your birds are processed, it is important to get their temp below 40 degrees as quickly as possible. Quick cooling with ensure quality meat and eliminate the chances of contamination. We always let our processed birds chill for at least an hour before further cutting or bagging. You will find that if the birds are very cold, it makes cutting them up much cleaner and easier. We have found that letting them "rest" in the fridge for 2-4 days will result in a more tender bird after it is cooked. We have gone as long as 7 days, but I really couldn't tell much difference than at 4 days.

    Raising this breed properly will result in a bounty of reward. You can get a very nice eating size bird in a relatively short period of time. No other breed will ever give you as proportional breast and dark meat as these. The Cornish often gets a bad rap, unrightfully so. They are not genetically modified and are not frankenbirds as I have often seen the called. People who have problems often get into them not being fully knowledgeable of how to properly take care of them. As a result, they spread a fury of misinformation about their expirience. I think that this misinformation hinders some folks from even trying them, which IMHO is wrong. Under no circumstances will they ever “die for no reason” or just break a leg walking. I have never had one go down from bad legs and have had very few flips. If either if these happen, it is from improper care, not the breed.

    I hope this is insightful for those of you considering trying your hand at this breed, and hopefully it clears up some of the misinformation people spread. Once again, I am not saying this is the right way or the only way to raise these, just my way.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2011
    11 people like this.
  2. Hooligan Farm

    Hooligan Farm Songster

    Oct 24, 2010
    Burlington County, NJ
    Thanks for the info. I'm thinking about getting a few in Spring. [​IMG]
  3. E.G.Glayer

    E.G.Glayer Songster

    Jan 29, 2009
    Blanchester OH
  4. chicks4kids

    chicks4kids Songster

    Apr 22, 2009
    Northern Indiana
    5 oz. of food a day per chick is what I figured based on 20 lbs. of feed per chick at 8 weeks of age....Sound right to you??
  5. HHandbasket

    HHandbasket The Chickeneer

    There should be a sticky on this one. Thanks for the post!
  6. Very good method. I think I'll try it if I ever get the chance.
  7. bigredfeather

    bigredfeather Songster

    Oct 1, 2008
    Yorkshire, Ohio
    Quote:If you average the total amount over the entire 8 weeks, that is correct.
  8. mitch324

    mitch324 Songster

    Apr 5, 2009
    Macedon, NY
    Quote:I agree! Great post!
  9. ThePigeonKid

    ThePigeonKid Songster

    May 24, 2010
    Ohio - Chickens 3yrs
    Great post! [​IMG]
  10. upthecreek

    upthecreek Songster

    Mar 18, 2009
    South Alabama
    Very Good Info !!!!

    Where do you get your CornishX chicks from ?
    Thanks ,

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