Raising Cornish Cross birds for meat? Learn the math of budgeting ahead for food and tracking your bird’s weight gains.
By Anne Gordon
Raising Cornish Cross broilers for meat can be a great family adventure and, above all, delicious. But it can also be disappointing; you may lose a few broilers along the way or, even worse, your broilers may develop low weight gains, which translates into increased feed costs.
Since moving to my farm, my goal has been self-sufficiency and sustainability, producing the majority of my food. This involves planning vegetable gardens, maintaining laying hens and raising Cornish Cross broilers. It’s not a hobby for me. The goal is to produce food in the most profitable way possible with reasonable effort. Through trial and error I have landed on a management approach to keeping Cornish Cross broilers that mimics commercial broiler operations in terms of confinement, feeding and monitoring broiler progress.
This cost-effective approach I’ve shared in previous articles will have your broilers ready for the freezer in 42-49 days and at finishing weights of 4-6 pounds. Any longer and you’ll start to lose meat quality and spend a lot more money and effort. Cornish Cross broilers at 56 days begin to produce noticeably more manure and consume significantly more feed, with the amount of effort almost doubling. And, at the cost of quality, protein-rich feed, it becomes very expensive to feed broilers beyond 56 days. After a few years of less than stellar results, most people blame the Cornish Cross and move on to other interests.
Most hatcheries provide tables that track body weight and feed consumption by age for Cornish Cross roosters and pullets. The Aviagen table below represents performance standards as averages of all Aviagen strains bred worldwide. With this chart, you are able to answer questions about raising broilers and their overall progress:
How much food will it take to finish?
How much will it cost?
How much should I feed each day?
What is an acceptable growth rate?
What is the average target weight each week?
When can you schedule the treatment day?
A simple Cornish crossbred chicken tracker
Getting off to a good start with your Cornish Cross broiler flock requires more than good preparation; it also depends on the quality of the day-old chicks arriving from the hatchery. When the chicks arrive, the first thing I do is open the shipping box and assess the overall quality of the chicks. Pay attention to uniformity – the chicks should look alike.
Count the chicks to determine the exact number you received. Sometimes hatcheries add an extra chick or two. Assuming the number of chicks you received can skew your records, distorting overall feed consumption data later. I count twice and enter that number in the record. This is the most important data point as all calculations will be based on this number.
When transferring day old chicks from the shipping crate to the brooder, I always weigh 5-6 chicks to get a good idea of the initial weight of the entire brood. The average of these weights is my second entry in the record.
Feed tracking is also important as it helps determine how well your broiler chicks are performing. Feed tracking also helps you estimate the quantity and cost needed to finish your broilers.
Over time, I randomly take the weight of 5-6 chicks, average those weights, and enter it into the record. I compare my results with the averages provided by the hatchery where I bought the chicks. If the average weight of my chicks is lower than the weights indicated in the table at the same age, I must assess what is happening. Was it cold and rainy or hot and sweltering? Weather conditions impact the growth rates of Cornish Cross. But I also consider a number of other factors, such as adequate feeding space so that all chicks can easily eat their fill. A little observation will help identify the problem, which can be as simple as a water trough that is a little high to reach.
If I don’t see anything wrong, I examine the food to make sure it isn’t moldy, has an unpleasant odor or shows any unusual signs. Next, I check the waterer to make sure there is no algae buildup in the lines, or manure or debris thrown into the waterer pan. You’ll be able to see what the problem might be, but more importantly, you’ll be able to remedy the situation before it really affects the progress of the broilers. Ironically, when you follow chicks so closely, you usually won’t encounter large differences in actual and projected growth.
Broiler growth monitoring
A simple table, a pencil, a scale and a calculator will allow you to follow the progress of your broilers. From there you can make it simpler or more complex. Here is an example of how I monitor weight as my broilers grow.
I use the date received as the first date and enter all other dates at weekly intervals. For ease of comparison with the Aviagen Breeder Weight and Feeding Chart (above), I identify the age of the chicks with a week number and also the representative day number. I enter the weekly weights from the breeders weight and feed chart. If you are ordering a straight run, simply average the male and female weights and enter that average. Each week I weigh a representative sample of 5-6 chicks and enter the average. Once set up, record keeping is quite simple. Each week, fill in the yellow boxes:
Feeding can be tracked by recording the number of bags purchased, noting dates of purchase and noting cost. As I grow Cornish Cross broilers I can see how consumption increases and I can budget for when I will raise broilers in the future.
Once the broilers are processed, I calculate the total cost to raise them. The sum of the cost of the birds themselves, supplements and feed gives me the total cost. From there I can divide by the number of birds. And by weighing each slaughtered carcass and recording, I can then calculate the average cost per pound of finished weight.
Once you have the values recorded, including recording live weight and process weight for each broiler, you can then calculate the feed conversion ratio (RCF) for your broiler flock. RCF is the number of pounds of food needed to gain 1 pound of body weight. For me, the RCF is the gold standard. If your RCF calculated upper than breeder performance standards, you need to reassess the way you breed Cornish Cross chickens.
FCR = total pound diet/body weight
Consumption = total feed/number of birds
Weight = average live weight
From the numbers above you can see that my broilers, even though they were below the average Aviagen weight, ate less feed to achieve this resulting in a rate of overall food conversion from be a little better than average Aviagen performance. This proves to me that my overall approach to management in Cornish Cross chicken farming is working.
This is part of a series of articles on the management of Cornish Cross broilers. Here are the links to the other parts of the series:
Setting up for Cornish Cross Success
Setting up your corded pens
Treat your birds humanely
Anne Gordon is a backyard chicken owner with a modest chicken operation which includes laying hens and Cornish Cross broilers. And, like many of you, she doesn’t sell eggs or meat – all production is for her personal consumption. She is a lifelong poultry farmer and writes from personal experience as a city girl who moved to the suburbs to raise a few chickens and now resides on a rural acreage. She has experimented a lot with chickens over the years and learned a lot along the way, some of it the hard way. She had to think outside the box in some situations, but stick to time-tested traditions in others. Anne lives on Cumberland Mountain in Tennessee with her two English Springers, Jack and Lucy.