Sunday, January 15, 2012

Red Meaty Chicks - An Examination and Comparison to Cornish Cross

When we did our first batch of Meaty Chicks last spring it was only an experiment. I wanted to determine a few things: Can Cornish Cross be healthily raised by hens? Will the resulting adult Meaty Birds be happily eaten? What is the cost effectiveness of said Birds? And how many does it take to supply our needs? The answers: YES, YES, $2.23 a pound and 30 to 35.

The 10 Cornish Cross we raised that first time were mostly cooked by August. We kept cooking chicken so everyone could taste how good they were. This meant we needed more chicken to get through the winter, so I embarked on a second experiment.

I was curious to see if the Red Broilers acted/tasted/grew any different from the Cornish Cross but mostly I wanted to see if their health and foraging skills were all that much better than the Cornish Cross had been. Contrary to popular belief we really had no health problems with the Cornish Cross and found them to be very good foragers with a mother hen to guide them.

Since I knew now that my Cuckoo Marrans hens would happily raise Meaty Chicks as their own and save me the incredible trouble of raising them myself and that the freezer had plenty of room, I felt it was only prudent to get a new set of Meaty Chicks going.

At the beginning of August I ordered 26 Red Broilers to "graft" them under a couple of broody hens on the 24th of August. I have been doing this technique of grafting chicks for most of my life and I wrote a post on how to do it Here if you are thinking of doing this. I HIGHLY recommend it.

We lost 2 chicks right away because they did not have the best of luck in shipping. One was dead in the box and another died the next day. I blame this on the postal service and the ignorance of modern day people who know nothing about farm animals. It was a warm day when the chicks arrived at the post office and, thinking they were doing the chicks a favor, the postal workers put them next to the air conditioning!

 The hens I used were setting in the bushes where they had started to sit on eggs and because they were not locked up at night, more chicks disappeared the first week. The next weekend I moved them all to a varmint proof pen. If you do this, remember you need to keep them locked in the new location for at least 3 days before you let them out or they will not return to the new place the next night.

Ever the tricky and clever little devils, Raccoons will reach under hens at night and pull chicks out, without harming the hen. The hen sleeps through it- until the chicks run out. Which takes several nights of chick munching. It's like nature's own crunchy chick vending machine. (Pardon the Homestead humor)

I took these photos of the Red Broilers to be compared with my visual diary of the Cornish Cross progress:

August 27

September 20

September 20

September 22

October 5th

October 16

October 16

November. We were busy and forgot to take a picture of the chicks.

December 21. The meaty chicks are 17 weeks old. Knowing they would be "going in" the next day I told them to live it up! They had a lovely day running all over the farm.

December 21. A mix of our flock, all of the red ones are meaty chicks

December 21. For size comparison the Cuckoo Marans hens behind them are 5 months old.

Here's the numbers:

$56.92 initial cost of chicks (26 chicks at $1.77 each + 10.90 shipping from Ideal Poultry)

$101 for feed (This is a guess-timation. We had $202 total feed costs for the 17 weeks but we had 22 full grown Cuckoo Marans and Americana eating with the chicks)

Butchered at 17 weeks. 22 birds processed.

96 pounds total dressed weight, average dressed weight per chicken was 4.36 pounds. Among the individual birds there was a large range of sizes. A couple roosters were 6 pounds and 3 hens were barely 3 pounds.

$91 cost for butchering. Half of the chickens cost more to process because they were over 4 pounds. ($5.00 v.s. $3.50)

Total cost = $247.00

96 pounds divided by 22
  = 4.36 pound dressed average bird
$ 247.00 divided by 22
  = $11.23 per chicken,
$247.00 divided by 96 pounds
  = $2.57 per pound

Some of our observations are that the Red Meaty Chicks have slightly better flavor and are a little firmer in texture (not tough though) than the Cornish Cross. This is probably directly correlated to their age and not necessarily their breed. They were very good foragers, which is good for curtailing feed costs. This however made them hit my flower beds and potted plants much harder. I don't think I would recommend them for a small city lot. They would completely destroy a yard. They may however be ideal in a situation where chicks would not be raised by hens, since they seem to have a much stronger foraging drive and would not lay around at the food dish as Cornish Cross are purported to do in such a situation (although we never witnessed them doing this in our experiment).

One of the biggest cost factors was the drastically different sizes among them. Because of the wide range in growth/sizes between the individual chicks, it was difficult to determine when they should go in to the butchers, which in turn increased our processing costs by $1.50 for half of the birds.
I am thinking it might be nice though to have different sizes of birds in the freezer for different sized meals. I suppose this size discrepancy might also be good for those who process their flock a few at a time. One could simply take the larger birds first and give the smaller ones more time to grow.
Another possible factor, which I have no hard evidence to back up, is that since I dilly dallied and didn't get the chicks a month earlier, we may have spent more on feed because of the cold fall weather. They most likely burnt more calories staying warm and the first frost came early this year, killing all the lovely grasshoppers I was counting on as a protein source for them.
I would recommend getting these chicks 15 weeks before your first frost at the latest.
Red Meaty Chicks eating my baby asparagus, Argh!

As far as a comparison to the Cornish Cross on ease of care, the jury is still out on that one, but I am leaning in favor of the Cornish Cross next time, just because of the fact that the Cornish Cross did not eat all of my baby asparagus like these did.


  1. I've NEVER had problems with raising Cornish Crosses. No leg problems, nobody just "keeling over" from overeating or heart attacks. We keep them in a chicken tractor (old dog kennel) that we move when it gets poopy and for new grass (about every two days). They are butchered starting at 8 weeks and usually take two weekends to do it, so some are actually 10 weeks old. We've raised 25 Cornish chickens in the 4' x 16' kennel and will continue to do so unless I get brave and find myself a few broody hens to take care of the chicks as that does seem the ideal way instead of having to brood them ourselves.

  2. I love the idea of having a hen or two help 'raise' the meaties. I might have to borrow one from a neighbor next summer.
    We've raised 50-60 CX birds per year over the last 6 years and have an average mortality rate of under 10%. We feed them 12 hrs on/12 hrs off or just a limited the amount of feed per day. I believe this is a significant factor compared to those that give them unlimited feed. We raise ours to 8 wks. At $1/each plus $100-125 in feed we usually get around 130 lbs. or about $1-1.20/lb in costs. We process them ourselves but I amortize our plucker, tractor, fencing, etc. costs as well so it's closer to $1.50-1.75/lb. At the farmer's market they sell for $4.75-5/lb.


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