Cornish Cross or Heritage Chicken: Which Do You Prefer?

| 6/7/2010 4:14:28 PM

Tags: chickens, heritage breeds, meat chickens,

Cornish cross chickens 

Opinions on the best chickens to raise for meat vary greatly, depending on who you ask. There are two primary options: Cornish cross (aka Cornish Rocks) and heritage breeds.

Cornish cross have been bred to produce meat quickly and efficiently. They reach slaughter weight in about seven weeks. Without a restricted diet and careful management, they are unlikely to survive more than several months. There is a common misconception that these birds are genetically modified. The truth is that they’re the result of highly selective breeding. The parent stock can reproduce without artificial insemination.

Heritage chickens are standard-bred chickens that grow more slowly (they take 16 weeks or more to reach “market” weight) and live much longer. Some people say heritage chicken meat is more flavorful, although it must be cooked differently; others say it’s tough.

There is a third option: chickens that fall somewhere between heritage chickens and Cornish cross. These birds, such as Freedom Rangers, are large enough to process in about 10 weeks. (Since writing this in early 2010, my opinions have changed. See Wrong About Freedom Rangers for more information.)

Deborah Boehle did a side-by-side comparison of the carcasses of Cornish cross and heritage breed chickens: Chicken for Dinner? and Chicken for Dinner? Part 2. She clearly favors the heritage breeds, both for flavor and the experience in raising them.

12/1/2015 7:13:42 PM

Ok I have eaten cornish hen for a long time but never know that there were other type of bird like this,get to try it,I just read a news report about a guy down here in Fla raising Cornish Cross Chicken which I did some research which get me here,good insight.

alicia finley
1/5/2013 8:59:24 PM

I have had great experiences. I raised approx. 3000 Cornish X this year ON PASTURE and on organic grain. We started day-old batches, in our light-filled, open ventilated barn, of 100 chicks in 8' x 4' boxes that were then expanded to boxes double that size during the 2 week. They were kept on dry beds of wood shavings and often brought bunches of grass to them inside the barn. The birds were always active, noisy and when allowed outside, foraged naturally and aggressively and continued this when moved permanently outside at 3-4 weeks of age. They even climbed up into the buckwheat bushes to forage. The birds were beautiful, friendly and brave in that they would allow you to pet them and pick them up. The birds tasted amazing, were firm not mushy, and were very popular at 4 farmers markets they were sold at every week.

sally green
8/14/2011 1:44:44 AM

CX are great. I've never had problems raising them. I've raised as many as 50 at a time. I process at 8 weeks. I make the appointment with the processor the day I for 8 weeks from their hatching date. I supply them with Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth to roll in and put a bit in their feed. I have not used organic AC Vinegar but I'm going to try it next time around. I hang their water and food feeders. I raise them as the chickens grow. It makes them have to stand and stretch to eat and drink, builds muscle in their legs and helps keep the breast off the ground. I've never had a problem with them not eating or drinking. I believe it's instinctive. I don't like eating my laying hens. It's hard to eat something you call mother. It’s just not right. I've had many friends and family members comment on how wonderful the chicken tastes. It's hard to eat store bought chicken after raising your own. I thinks it's time to raise another 50. Sally

8/8/2011 10:39:54 AM

I have raised several batches of cornish x and have not found them to be dirty unless I allow them to be. You can't judge the cleanliness of a chicken if the living conditions are not taken into consideration. If they are not moved or cleaned regularly then of course they're going to get dirty as they have no choice but to lay in their own waste. We have a neighbor who has his chickens in a small confined "mud pit" as my kids call it. They are standard laying hens such as Rhode Island Reds and Americaunas and they are the filthiest chickens I have ever seen. I have two Salatin type chicken tractors that I move every day to new grass. I also feed high quality organic grains that I buy in bulk and mix and fresh water every day with a little apple cider vinegar mixed in. I have never had any health issues with these birds whatsoever. In my opinion they taste incredible, are tender, grow fast and are a good balance between store bought and the heritage. I completely respect the heritage chicken and those that raise them. I just wanted to find a balance.

12/8/2010 2:39:23 PM

Cornish genetics have been designed for factory farm production. Anytime there is a focus on one performance factor, there is a loss of another. Leg problems, heart attacks, and, now deep pectoral myopathy. Deep pectoral myopathy is a condition where the cardiovascular system can't keep up with the chicken's growth. Any amount of exercise can cause the blood vessels that feed the filet part of the breast to burst and the fillet tissue is starved for blood. Over a few days the tissue dies and turns into a dead, green mass. There are only two breeders in North America left which supply the genetics for all hatcheries (except for heritage breeds). The breeders blame the condition on "management" factors. Namely, chickens shouldn't be allowed to flap their wings! I've noticed a dramatic increase in deep pectoral myopathy or green muscle disease over the past 10 years. Is anyone else who raises Cornish having this problem?

11/11/2010 3:55:46 PM

I raised 3 batches of Cornish X meat chickens, generally 15 at a time for myself. It was my first experience with chickens and the birds worked out great. The first 2 batches I had processed at 8 weeks, and they ranged 5 to 7 lbs. The last batch I did at 6 weeks and they were 4.5 to 5.2 lbs, which is what I prefer. I closed them in the coop at night and out all day in shade/sun on my mowed fenced chicken area. Plenty of fresh water, organic apple cider vinegar, garlic and blue green algae. Never had any health/leg, etc. issues. I fed them Nutrena broiler mix. I've had lots of compliments on the great tasting meat and I've prepared it many ways from roasting to grilling to soup and stew. I've also had quite a few neighbors request their own broilers next year.

heritage chef steve
7/28/2010 3:54:46 PM

Having raised True Heritage Poultry for over 40yrs. I continue to watch how the commercial geneticly engineered bird has attempted to replace the Heritage poultry. With bigger "new and improved" strategies The tradeoffs by messing with Mother Nature are evident. Simply put there is really no comparison when it comes to the natural health, vigor, self reproduction and most of all flavor. I'll put my Heritage Coq au Vin or Grandmas Chicken and Dumplings up against the commercial bird anytime

7/21/2010 9:38:09 AM

I raised Cornish X 35 or so years ago and had opportunity again to raise them over the last 10 years. The 'nowaday" CX don't seem to have the flavor and tenderness of the ones we raised years ago. Plus most of the ones we've raised in the last 10 years don't seem to want to drink goat milk as much as before. I think the goat milk back then remedied the splayed leg problems and allowed us to dress them out 6-8# and still be tender--who knows the extra calcium in the milk could have helped remedy heart problems as well. I've noticed a lot of difference in sources for CX-some seem totally lazy, others eat and exercise like a chicken should. The laziest CX I ever had were bought in May years ago and my uncle told me an old saying, "A June chicken sleeps itself to death". Which I'm sure is exaggerated, but my experience taught me to always get my chicks in late Feb or March. I now have yng roos and pullets of Delaware, RIR, Hybrid Browns, and Barred Rocks and going to experiment mix breeding to see if the meat is like I remember "fried chicken" tasting! and to avoid paying such high prices for tiny fluffballs. I found some info online telling the best crosses for meat, but can't seem to find it again. If anyone knows or has experience of which breeds to cross, I'd appreciate knowing it.

6/28/2010 10:37:49 AM

We currently have both- excess heritage cockerels will be butchered this fall (hatched this spring) and we have Cornish X. The Cornish X will put meat on our table and in our freezer quickly, but they are not like "real" chickens. I have just blogged about my thoughts on raising these chickens this morning.

6/26/2010 8:22:25 AM

We have crossed the slow growing cornish rocks with various heritage breeds New Hampshires, Australorp, Delaware, White Rock, Buff Orpington etc. All of our chicks are hen raised, thus saving incubation and brooding costs as well as labor. The mother hens are from Cornish or Sumatra stock and crossbreeds. The eclectic assortment of offspring resemble the Freedom Rangers, as well as some white 2nd or 3rd generation cornish crosses. They take about 12 weeks to reach butcher size, but are good meat birds as well as good layers.

6/25/2010 10:05:30 AM

We have raised both the slow growing and fast growing Cornish Cross, as well as heritage breeds (Brahma, Aracauna, Maran, Penedesenca, Faverolle). The fast growing Cornish Cross were about seven weeks old when their breast skin started to split. We had to do some emergency butchering in order to save the meat, which we found stringy and mushy. The slow growing Cornish Cross gave us a couple of weeks to schedule a butcher day (with both of us working different days, it can be tricky). But we struggled with a high mortality rate due to heart attacks, ascite and heat stroke (yes, they have lots of trees and bushes to get under). The meat had a better texture, but we felt with the high mortality rate that we didn't save any money by raising our own. The heritage breeds we have been very happy with. If the roosters are butchered at about four months, they are quite tender and tasty. We try to follow the Label Rouge guidelines for raising meat birds. The birds forage well and survived our -10 degree winter last year, still laying!! If the birds are older, they do need to be cooked in a crock pot or stew pot, but the flavor is so much better. And I don't have a yard full of white feathers all the time which the Cornish Cross seem to just shed.

sue arias_1
6/24/2010 2:28:08 PM

I have raised chickens for several years, and have bought the cornish cross chickens for meat. I have noticed that since these "ordered" chicks have no mother to teach them about being a chicken, they tend to be stupid. I had a broody hen at the same my meat birds arrived, and ordered a few of another breed for her to raise. Several of the cornish chicks listened and learned from her as she taught her babies to eat and drink. And, they were more curious of their surroundings. The meat birds who were in the coop and under a heat lamp were on their own except for me, who brought their food, and had to dip their beaks in water, didn't do anything but eat, sleep and poop. What can you expect from an uneducated bird? When I encouraged them to go out of the coop, they didn't know what to do in the sun and grass and would sit until I nudged them again and again. The other chicks were having a great time being chickens. So, with that in mind, I would make sure all the chickens have the opportunity to get outside as much as possible, and if you have a broody hen, let her teach them how to be a real chicken for the time they have.

6/23/2010 9:38:43 PM

I like Brahmas they are really laid back and I like Amerucanas because their blue and green eggs are easy to barter and they also look really neat.

6/23/2010 6:03:26 PM

I raised CX and I won't buy and raise them again. They were the dumbest animals (one killed itself by not moving it's head from under a roost and getting excited and breaking it's neck) I have ever dealt with and it was an unhealthy animal. It waddled around like Jaba the Hut and was constantly starving for feed. I have Freedom Rangers now and like how they develop and the fact they are reasonably smart.

6/23/2010 3:08:42 PM

I am in my first attempt at raising chickens and bought both the Cornish Cross and Heritage birds. All are the same age and I haven't found the Cornish to be any messier or lazier the the Heritage. I have mine out roaming in pasture and they are very active and very friendly; They are also as clean as my Heritage birds. They only want to come to the coop at night and even then I have to coax them in with treats. When I go out to water and throw some scratch and grain the Cornish are the ones that come running and then proceed to follow me around. They are far friendlier and more trusting birds than the Heritages. In fact I have several that love to be petted. Since mine are a few weeks from slaughter I don't know which tastes better, but I would say if your Cornishes are messy and lazy it might be because of how they are kept - maybe they just need room to roam.

empire prairie gal_1
6/23/2010 2:35:05 PM

I have grown both. I find the Cronish cross convenient if you need to dress at a specific time. They are reliable growers and can be dressed at seven or eight weeks of age. They fit into my work schedule. Their calm disposition allows the grandchildren to enjoy watching and help with feeding. The heritage birds usually require a longer growning period which is nice to allow for fresh chicken over a longer period of time. I have found the all in and all out treatment helps to keep diseases away. We feed our chickens products that we have raised on the farm. Cracked corn and our surplus leafy vegetables.

kelly grainger_1
6/23/2010 10:15:33 AM

I have grown both heritage and cornish crosses recently. It will be the last time I do the Cornish. They grew fast, they taste good, but the death rate and messiness is astounding. My heritage breeds take longer, but are super hardy, nothing kills them. If you cook them on a low temp for a longer time, they are tender and juicy, and I now prefer the taste. Heritage all the way...!

6/15/2010 10:14:50 AM

I have heritage (Speckled Sussex and Orpingtons) for eggs, but bought 10 Cornish cross chicks for meat. They have their own separate yard (about 10x10) and will go into the freezer this next weekend. While most of them have zero personality, there's one pullet that regularly gets out, will come running up to me whenever she sees me, and has actually come into the kitchen when she knew I was up and didn't get out to feed as fast as she thought I should - She actually, will most likely survive the freezer - I keep telling her she's just not 'supposed' to have any personality, but she does! We butchered some barred rock chickens that came as filler with a turkey poult order, and I don't know whether it was their age, the way they were raised (completely free range) or what, but they define the term "rubber chicken". Two bouts in the slow cooker is the only way to tenderize them! yuck.

joseph carlin
6/11/2010 9:11:18 AM

Rob and John, Thanks for your input. I'll admit that I kept them penned and that it was likely a contributing factor. I didn't want to mix them in the coop based on their young age and then their potential for mess in my (relatively) clean hen house. I may take another shot at them with a chicken tractor or something similar. Thanks for the advice.

6/10/2010 11:55:45 PM

After experimenting with heritage and cornish cross meat birds, we have found that the best chicken (this IS more tender than the pumped-full-of-hormones, pumped-up-with-10%-salt-solution-to-give-me-flavor grocery store birds,)is the cornish cross raised on fresh clean ground. As much feed (we use a layer mash/pellet depending on age) as they can consume in about 1/2 hour 2X/day morning and night. In- between those feedings, they get all the fresh greens/fruits/vegetables they can consume. Clover, dandelion greens, weeds from the garden...what are you going to do with that apple core?...You do have to grow them for a couple of extra weeks, but the result is worth it. More tender chicken, a small savings on feeding (less grain), and you really know what went into them. Oh yeah, and did I mention how flavorful and tender they are? P.S. I have never used "broiler maker" What's really in that anyway?

john schmidt
6/9/2010 10:13:45 AM

I'll agree with Joe that the Cornish Cross are a bit lazy. But I don't think they are to blame for that. They grow so fast and have such voracious appetites that they simply do not have the skeletal structure to get around well. I keep mine clean by putting them in an outdoor pen after they reach 4 weeks or so. They wallow in the dirt and move around well and the rain does wonders. I've had neighbors who confined them to small indoor areas and they were disgusting birds. Cornish meat is very good. It has a firm texture and the breast meat is large and does not dry out when you cook it. Unlike store-bought, injected mutant chicken. I do see benefits to heritage breeds. Easier to maintain, eat less, more self-sufficient, etc. But the truth is on the plate in my opinion. Heritage breeds are fine to stew like in Coq au Vin, but baking, grilling or frying is not the way to go.

joseph carlin
6/8/2010 4:17:47 PM

My one experience with raising crosses was enough to put me off. Tasted fine. Lost one or two to apparent old age at 11 weeks. The big issue was that they were the most disgusting creatures I have ever encountered. They were too lazy and overweight to bother standing up to make mud. It was impossible to keep them or their living quarters clean. I clean game and fish and have processed a few chickens, though typically keep dual purpose or laying birds. Nothing has ever put me off like having to scrub off these excrement caked blobs prior to butchering. All of my Barred Rocks, RI Reds, Auracana, and White Leghorns would have a hard time making the mess of one cornish cross, and dear lord would they not just lay in it. It may be that I was unprepared for the mayhem that a half dozen of those goliaths would cause, but probably never again. I'll take the extra time and raise more BR's if I want meat birds in the future. Takes them longer, but they prefer forage to my hard earned feed.

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