Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cornish X

The Cornish cross is a type of chicken, actually THE type of chicken. If you have eaten chicken in a restaurant or purchased some at the grocery store since 1960, this is the bird you have been eating. A cross between a Cornish and a white rock, these birds have been carefully bred to grow fast and develop a broad breast fit for the American consumer's taste.

However, there are some flaws with this particular hybrid, mostly that the birds can grow too fast which strains the cardiovascular system and that they start to pack on the pounds before the skeletal system can fully support the weight.

This is my first year raising Cornish X for meat birds and I must admit that I was a bit skeptical to order a batch since as a small pastured poultry operation, it almost seems sinful to raise the same type of birds used in factory farms. The birds were touted as lazy, sluggish creatures that fall asleep with their heads in the feeder. Frankenbirds. But so far, they are not.

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11 day old Cornish X (left) standing next to same age Welsummer chick

I find the Cornish to be a delight; they are inquisitive, alert and calm. They are always very curious about anything new in the brooder. I provide hunks of sod from the yard and the Cornish swarm it the instant I put it in the pen, scratching for bugs, pulling on grass and roots, climbing on the grass and leaping off across the brooder. They are very mindful of their surroundings too. When I walk by the brooder or a bird flies over the glass roof of the sunroom, it is the Cornish that tilt their heads to watch while the other birds continue focusing on the ground. They are also very friendly. I put my hand in the brooder and the other birds will run away but the Cornish come over to investigate, they grab my fingernails and poke my freckles. They settle down and let me pet them and are very calm when picked up. They dust, they dig, they run around and act chicken-y. Not at all the lazy, eating machines I was expecting.

Admittedly, the birds are still young and as they grow will probably slow down and I am going to do my best to grow them out slowly so they don't have heart or leg troubles. I am excited to get them out on pasture and anticipate that they will do well.

I am planning to experiment with other varieties of meat birds this summer and I will revisit my philosophy about the Cornish X in a few weeks but for the time being, I don't feel guilty about raising these birds. After all, Cornish X produce the type of dressed bird that the customer is seeking at an economical rate and if I can offer the chickens the highly quality of life during their time with us where they can be outside in the sunshine, chasing bugs and digging up worms then great.

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