Hello! I thought I'd do a semi-journal thread with regular updates where I can tell people how *I* raise a healthy cornish cross and to dispel some myths. I hear a lot about how fragile and unhealthy they are when classically raised. But the classic way of raising meat birds is the same way that CAFO operations raise them. What is the point of raising your own if you're just going to raise them the same way that large multi-thousand chicken operations do? And wouldn't you have similarly dismal and unhealthy results? I absolutely love cornish crosses for healthy, active meat birds and I wanted to share how I do it a bit differently! So why cornish crosses and why raise them differently? While I have no problems with red rangers, freedom rangers, and other "slow growth" meat chickens, the reality is that if you are ordering a batch of meat chickens you are ordering a hybrid chicken that will be butchered by four months old. Even the "rangers" are still four way hybrid chickens. They have a nearly identical breeding process to cornish cross but they toss in a Rhode Island Red or something instead of one of the normal meat lines. They are in no way more sustainable or self-sufficient than a cornish cross. But they do grow slower. If your goal is to grow healthy meat quickly, I'm not sure how that is a good thing if the same results can be obtained from a faster growing chicken. My real beef with Rangers lies in the Feed Conversion Ratio. This comes from the blog "backyardfarming" and I find it to be a pretty accurate assessment of over all costs, feed conversion ratios and per lb costs. Cornish cross should require around 2.5lbs of feed to put on 1lb of growth. A freedom ranger (or similar "slow growth" hybrid) will require 3.5lbs of feed for 1lb of growth. That adds up fast, and for most people it's already more expensive to raise their own chickens than to buy meat from a grocery store. $1.50/lb is about what I pay for a whole chicken I buy and I didn't have to put any work into it. So adding more expense and more work (harder to pluck, even longer grow out time) is very counter productive for me. The problem with the CX in this chart is the "mortality" rate. A 20% mortality is unacceptable even in a commercial facility. A 10% mortality rate is really difficult to deal with in a small scale setting where every bird counts! If you could reduce the mortality rate the cost gap between FR and CX would just grow. So the question becomes, how to reduce that mortality rate? I have found that it's surprisingly easy to get a healthy, low-mortality rate for CX by restricting feed, feeding wet, fermented feed, and encouraging lots of low-impact activity from early in their life. This is actually the exact same methods used by veterinarians when raising giant breeds of dogs or horses. Great Danes have the same problems that Cornish Crosses do and we can learn a lot about healthy meat bird management by looking at how those problems are managed in other species. First, I'd like you to meet my Big Bertha, my cornish cross. Classic name. I named my Cornish Crosses after old ladies that year and she happened to be just the right size to keep as an experiment for the future. The other two ladies I had in mind just didn't make the cut (being too big or too small). Bertha is two years old this year and she is going strong. She's an active, happy part of my laying flock. She's regularly bred by my rooster. She layed for a while during her first year. Now she plays an important part in our flock as a sort of second rooster. She's a calm bird with a good disposition, but she's huge. None of the other birds try to stand up to her. Because of this, birds lower on the pecking order often flock near her because she will cheerfully break up fights. She helps to keep the peace in my flock. She also often leads the charge against intruding cats. The neighbors have cats and she LOVES chasing cats. She's part of my model. She was raised using my methods, gleaned from numerous people here on BYC and my own substantial experience with animals. And she proves that CX can be healthy, happy birds that live natural lives. Today I had 16 CX chicks come in the mail. They hatched yesterday. I ordered them from Meyer Hatchery who had a free shipping sale this week on 15+ straight run CX. I thought some folks might like to follow along on a meat bird journey, especially if they were considering raising their own in the future. So here it is! Day One The Brooder My chicks will only spend about 10 days in a brooder, but it's an important time period. Cornish crosses grow very quickly, so they need to move out of the brooder quickly. I try to order meat birds in the height of summer so I can get them outside faster! Right off the bat cornish crosses should be extremely active and robust, more than most egg chicks. They should be running quickly and exploring, pecking at things, and generally being pushy. They have a pretty good mob mentality. Most people find that meat chickens wildly out compete other chicks in a brooder and so can't be kept with egg chicks unless the egg chicks are about a week older. I agree and think this speaks to their general hardiness. They are VERY robust birds and are hard to bring down. If your chicks are dying in the brooder, there's something very wrong with your environment or your supplier. Teaching them to eat and drink is easy. Just set up your food and water and dip their beaks in both. I do this for a random assortment of about half of the chicks and then the same with the food. The rest of them will catch on very quickly. A mason jar chick waterer is easy to come by and pretty ideal IMO. You can use a pint and then a quart size jar as they drink more. After that an upgrade to a plastic gallon waterer works well until they move outdoors. Heat; While I'd prefer to use a suspended heating pad, I don't have one that would function and I have lots of lamps, so I use those as my heat source. The heat lamp I use is small and only heats up a small portion of their brooder pen. They sometimes bundle very close together under it. That's OK. Chicks in nature bundle together close under a very small heat source, a mama bird. I make sure there's enough space under the heat lamp for every chick to sit without piling up, but no more than. The food and water are on the opposite side of the pen from the heat lamp. This makes the chicks eager to spend some time napping under the heat lamp, and then move out from under it to play, eat and drink. They spend less time under the heat lamp and they feather out faster, which means they move out of the brooder faster! Less heat also helps prevent pasty butt. For safety, I like to use reptile heat lamps instead of "chicken" ones. Reptile heat lamps tend to be a little more secure, have sturdier metals, and are designed without the metal "cage" under the bulb, so they can be placed on a flat wire mesh surface. I have a large wire mesh top to the brooder, so the heat lamp simply sits on this on a table where it's well out of the way. The bulb and lamp can never fall into the brooder and catch fire this way. Exercise lots of caution when using heat lamps. Bedding; I use a thick pad of newspaper layed flat on the bottom with some shredded on top of it. The thick base keeps the brooder clean and the torn up shreds give the chicks some traction and something to dig through. I find newspaper so easy to keep clean and dry compared to other bedding, plus it's free. Keeping the pen dry and easy to clean is important for natural cocci management. Food; I feed a standard starter/grower or flock raiser crumble, always unmedicated, 24/7 in the brooder. Any unmedicated crumble that is 18%-22% protein will suffice. The trick is that from their very first meal, the food should be wet like a mash. Do not feed dry feed, even if they seem picky or make a bit of a mess. For the first meal I simply wet down some crumbles. For every day after this I will be fermenting their feed and teaching them to forage for greens and bugs. For more on fermented feed, check out the Fermenting Feed For Meat Birds thread. I will be talking about how I do this tomorrow. By keeping the food and water away from the heat source you also keep the bacteria loads in the food and water lower as well as force the chicks to move regularly, which leads to healthier growth. Keeping cornish crosses active as they grow is important for keeping them healthy. Parasites and Disease; I don't worry much about cocci or similar conditions. I tend to use a fresh brooder each time (VERY large cardboard boxes) so there's little chance of contamination, but if your brooder is wood or plastic a bit of bleach water a few days in advance and sitting in the sun for a few hours will kill just about everything. I wash my mason jar waterer fresh each time and only use this waterer in brooders. The key is to introduce the chicks to micro-organisms in the environment slowly and to change their bedding often. A sterile environment is only good until they have to leave the brooder and we want them to move outdoors quickly. I introduce germs to my sterile environment in a controlled way right away by placing a lump of healthy, grassy dirt from my lawn (about 10'-20' from the egg chicken pen) in with them. The egg flock is only allowed into the main lawn on occasion so the load of potential hazardous micro-organisms is low, but probably exists. They will climb on and peck at this lump of dirt and grass and slowly adjust to the micro-organisms they will have to live with outdoors for the rest of their lives. This also conveniently gives the chicks a source of grit directly from the soil, which means I don't need to provide any in order to start feeding fresh greens and bugs very quickly. This is a very natural way to start building a healthy immunity to a lot of environmental factors. Exclusive expenses so far; $37 for the chicks ($0 on shipping, as there was a sale), $14 for a 50lb bag of feed that will last a long time, and about $5 for the heat lamp usage (bulb and electricity) So that's it for day one. Day one is all about setting up a healthy brooding environment and laying down groundwork for a healthy future! I'll be back to post about fermenting their feed and introducing fresh foods to them tomorrow. In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions or share your own healthy meat bird stories!