This year was the first time I tried the Cornish Cross broilers. The chicks seemed to get off to a pretty good start. They develop very fast and came out of the brooder as soon as I could get a shelter built for them. In the beginning of the project, I was thinking, “this isn’t so bad…” When they got to 6-7 weeks old, they were still very small. I was puzzled that they were not big enough at the typical time frame for processing them. Then I read some posts on the American Pastured Poultry forum that others were having difficulty with their broilers not growing as fast as usual. I decided to wait until the weekend after Thanksgiving to process the birds to give them more growth time (they would be 8-1/2 weeks old then). All at once they started growing fast again! For the next two weeks we lost a bird or two almost every day to heart attacks and ascites! With ascites, the chickens’ hearts cannot keep up with the needs of the size of the bird, and they fill up with fluid. The fluid prevents them from breathing well, and they lay around wheezing. Their hearts get stretched out and flabby, and they flip over upside-down and die. I lost 1/3 of the flock during that time. Processing time came around, and we processed all the birds we had left. Most of them had ascites. They also seemed to have weak joints and bones that broke in the plucker. And they had a lot of pin feathers that were tedious to remove. I believe this is due to their young age – an older bird would have grown those pinfeathers into full size feathers that would pluck easier. How do I know this? We processed five roosters for a neighbor at the same time we did the cornish cross. The roosters plucked cleanly and didn’t break any bones. I haven’t eaten any of the cornish cross chickens yet (still eating turkey) but with the health problems they were having, I’m dubious that they could taste that good. I’d like to try dual purpose heritage birds next year. They will take a lot longer to grow out, but should be healthier and much tastier.
Sally Cummins on Turkey Day Chris Jordan on Turkey Day Massimo Battistini on Turkey Day