In the realm of poultry, the Cornish Cross chicken stands out as a testament to the transformative power of human ingenuity and selective breeding. Not a true chicken breed, but a hybrid, began as a small-scale project by one woman, who eventually led to a revolution in the chicken industry.
In this article, we delve into the captivating history of Cornish Cross chickens, tracing their roots from humble beginnings to their dominance in the meat production sector. We’ll explore the breed’s temperament, appearance, health considerations, and the intricate web of genetics that transformed them into proprietary intellectual property. Join us as we unravel the intriguing story behind the rise of Cornish Cross, shedding light on their impact and significance in the poultry world.
Table of Contents
- Meat broilers
- Ready for processing in 6 to 8 weeks from hatching
- Require special feeding
- Can be susceptible to health problems
- A carefully produce hybrid and not a true chicken breed
Background and History
The story begins with Celia Steele, who started raising meat birds as a small-scale project to sell locally and generate extra income, while her husband was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Over time her project grew, and in 1926, she built the first Broiler House, which housed 10,000 birds. Celia’s amazing success caught the attention of the poultry industry, leading to the “Chicken of Tomorrow” contests sponsored by A&P grocery stores and supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the contests, breeders were encouraged to produce and submit their “meat bird” eggs for central hatcheries to hatch, raise, and judge based on various criteria, such as growth rate, feed conversion efficiency, and meat yield.
In the first contest, held on June 24th, 1948, Henry Saglio, a teenager from Connecticut was the first runner-up with his notable strain of pure White Plymouth Rocks. The winner, however, was Charles Vantress from California. He had created a hybrid from New Hampshires crossed with Cornish chickens that had been bred in California.
A subsequent iteration of the competition, occurring three years later, resulted, once again, with Vantress emerging as victorious, this time with another mixed breed, displacing yet another pedigreed fowl. This triumph propelled him to establish one of the leading hatchery enterprises in the industry. The only rival standing in his way was Saglio’s family business, Arbor Acres, which, in 1959, relinquished its successful purebred White Rock in favor of a hybridized broiler.
Coincidentally, that very year, Vantress hybrids dominated 60 percent of broilers nationwide. Consequently, the robust and resilient purebreds, accustomed to the freedom of open-air living and capable of enduring diverse weather conditions, vanished from commercial usage, ending their hold on American barnyards that had lasted for almost a century.
The winners of the Chicken of Tomorrow contests not only bred new avian species but also reconstructed the entire chicken industry. Initially, hybridization attempts involved crossing two breeds, utilizing a mother from one variety and a father from another. However, breeders shifted their focus to developing intricate crossbreeds to ensure consistent replication of desired traits, as this was crucial for building profitable enterprises.
The complexity of the genealogical lineage they meticulously constructed ensured that these birds could not be replicated beyond the companies responsible for their breeding. If a farmer who purchased these new hybrids attempted to breed them on their own property, the offspring would not possess the desired traits. Previously, broiler farmers had primarily relied on hatcheries for the sake of efficiency when acquiring chicks. However, with the advent of these complex hybrids, they were left with no alternative.
Raising hybrid fowl became akin to cultivating hybrid soybeans or corn, necessitating a perpetual reliance on breeding companies for each new crop. In an astonishingly brief timeframe, the open-source birds that had populated countless farmyards and backyard gardens for millennia transformed into components of proprietary intellectual property. Through the mechanisms of genetics alone, without the aid of patents, the legacy of purebred fowl vanished beneath the shroud of trade secrets.
Today, Aviagen and Tyson are two major companies that own and continue to develop the Cornish Cross strains, with Aviagen’s Ross strains (including Ross 308, 308AP, and 708) and Tyson’s Cobb-Vantress strains (including Cobb500, 700, and MVMale) being prominent in the industry.
Temperament and Behavior
The Cornish Cross chicken breed, also known as broilers, were primarily developed for meat production rather than any specific temperament traits. However, based on observation they do have certain characteristics of temperament.
Demeanor – The Cornish Cross is known to be relatively calm and docile in nature. They typically have a mellow nature and are less prone to aggression compared to some other chicken breeds. However, individual personalities can still vary among chickens.
Suitability for Children – Due to their large size and because they tend not to be long-lived as this is not what they have been bred for due to being primarily a meat-focused breed, Cornish Cross Chickens are not a good choice for keeping as pets by children.
Suitability for Beginners – Cornish Cross chickens can be suitable for beginners who want to raise their own meat, due to their relatively low-maintenance nature. They are generally easy to care for and require standard chicken-keeping practices. However, beginners should be aware of their specific dietary and health needs, as the rapid growth of Cornish Cross chickens can make them more prone to certain health issues if not managed properly.
Activity Level – The Cornish Cross is known to have a relatively low activity level compared to some other chicken breeds. Their fast growth rate and heavy body build can make them less active and less inclined to engage in extensive foraging or flying.
Broodiness – Due to the bird’s selective breeding for meat production, broodiness traits have been significantly reduced or eliminated in Cornish Cross chickens. If you bred them due to their hybrid nature, they would not breed true and are not designed to be bred.
Interaction with Flockmates – They are generally more passive and non-aggressive with flockmates than many other types of chicken. They are not known to be highly territorial or prone to aggressive behavior towards other chickens. However, individual variations and pecking order dynamics within a flock can still have an influence.
Noise Level – They are not known for being particularly noisy compared to some other chicken breeds. Typically they exhibit standard chicken vocalizations such as clucking, cackling, and occasional crowing from roosters.
Cornish Cross Breed Specifics and Traits
These broilers have specific breed characteristics and traits that make them suitable for their intended purpose of meat production.
Purpose – They are specifically bred to grow rapidly and efficiently convert feed into muscle, resulting in a high yield of meat for consumption.
Size and Weight – Known for their large size they reach market-ready age very quickly, at around 6 to 8 weeks. Males (cockerels) can weigh between 6 to 8 pounds (2.7 to 3.6 kilograms) or even more, while females (pullets) are around 4 to 6 pounds (1.8 to 2.7 kilograms). These weights can vary based on specific breeding programs and management practices.
Appearance – The Cornish Cross has a distinctive appearance characterized by its large, broad-breasted body and relatively short legs. They have thick, dense muscle development, especially in the breast area, which contributes to their high meat yield.
Baby Chicks – The chicks of the Cornish Cross are usually yellow in color when they hatch, with soft down covering their bodies. They have a typical chick-like appearance.
Cold and Heat Hardy – The breed is not particularly cold-hardy compared to some other chickens. Their rapid growth and large body size can make them more susceptible to cold temperatures. Adequate shelter and provisions for cold weather should be provided. In terms of heat hardiness, they can be more susceptible to heat stress due to their heavy body build. Providing shade, ventilation, and access to fresh water is important in hot climates or during heatwaves.
Predator Resistance – Like most chicken breeds, they are not inherently predator-resistant particularly because due to their weight they tend to just sit around. They require appropriate coop and run setups, including secure fencing and protection from predators such as raccoons, foxes, and birds of prey. Supervised free-ranging should be done cautiously to minimize the risk of predation, but they are not best suited to a free-range environment.
Flight Ability – Due to their large size and body proportions, Cornish Cross Chickens are not known for their flight ability. Their heavy bodies and limited muscle development mean they are basically unable to fly. They are generally considered non-flying chickens.
Health and Disease Concerns
Like any living creature, the Cornish Cross can be prone to certain health problems and diseases. As they are primarily bred for meat production and for rapid growth, they can be susceptible to certain health issues, including:
Leg and Joint Problems – Their rapid growth can sometimes lead to leg and joint issues, such as leg weakness, leg deformities, or lameness. These issues can be exacerbated by improper nutrition, rapid weight gain, or poor housing conditions.
Heart and Respiratory Problems – Their quick development can put a strain on their cardiovascular and respiratory systems, making them more prone to heart problems and respiratory issues, especially in hot weather or stressful conditions.
Heat Stress – They have limited tolerance to heat due to their large size and muscle mass. Heat stress, which can lead to dehydration, panting, reduced feed intake, and even death if not properly managed can be a problem.
Specific Diseases – While there are no specific diseases associated with the Cornish Cross, they are susceptible to common poultry diseases including respiratory infections, parasites (such as mites and lice), coccidiosis, Marek’s disease, and others. Good biosecurity practices and regular monitoring can help prevent and manage these diseases.
Care and Maintenance
Proper care and management practices are essential for maintaining health. Things to consider include:
a. Housing – Provide a clean, well-ventilated, and spacious coop with adequate space per bird to prevent overcrowding and minimize the risk of respiratory issues.
b. Nutrition – Offer a balanced and high-quality diet that meets the nutritional needs of growing meat birds.
c. Monitoring and Observation – Regularly observe your birds for any signs of illness or distress, such as lameness, abnormal behavior, respiratory difficulties, or reduced feed intake. Early detection of health problems allows for timely intervention.
d. Cleanliness and Hygiene – Maintain cleanliness in the coop, including regular removal of manure and bedding, to minimize the risk of bacterial or fungal infections.
e. Preventive Measures – Implement appropriate biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases. This includes controlling access to the flock, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding contact with wild birds or other poultry.
Cornish Cross Chickens have specific nutritional requirements at different stages of growth. Providing them with a balanced diet that supports their rapid growth and muscle development is essential. Starter feeds with higher protein content (around 20-22%) are typically provided for the first few weeks, followed by a transition to grower feeds with slightly lower protein levels. Consult with a poultry nutritionist or follow recommendations provided by reputable feed manufacturers for specific feeding guidelines.
Where to Buy Cornish Cross Chickens
This popular meat breed can be purchased from various sources such as hatcheries, local breeders, or agricultural supply stores.
Many hatcheries specialize in supplying Cornish Cross Chickens. They offer day-old chicks, pullets, or hatching eggs for those interested in raising them. We recommend Cackle Hatchery.
Check with local breeders or poultry enthusiasts in your area. They may have Cornish Cross Chickens available or be able to provide information on where to find them.
Some agricultural supply stores or feed stores may carry day-old chicks or pullets of Cornish Cross Chickens during the spring season. It’s worth checking with stores in your local area.
The cost of Cornish Cross Chickens can vary depending on factors such as the age of the chicks, the quantity ordered, and the source. The average price for day-old chicks ranges from $1.50 to $4 per chick, depending on the quantity ordered.
Hatching eggs may cost around $1 to $2 per egg, again depending on the source and quantity.
Prices given are only a guide and availability may vary over time. Check the websites or contact the hatcheries directly for up-to-date pricing and availability information.
Don’t forget to consider local regulations and guidelines regarding the purchase and transportation of live poultry, as they may apply in your area.
The story of the Cornish Cross broiler is a testament to the power of human innovation and selective breeding. From Celia Steele’s small-scale project to the industry-transforming “Chicken of Tomorrow” contests, these birds have left an indelible mark on the poultry world.
Through careful hybridization and genetic manipulation, a meat-focused breed was produced that grows rapidly and efficiently, quickly converting feed into muscle.
However, this transformation did not come without trade-offs. The proprietary nature of the complex hybrids has led to a reliance on breeding companies, effectively ending the era of freely bred purebreds. Despite their commercial success, Cornish Cross chickens are not without their health challenges, with issues such as leg and joint problems and susceptibility to heat stress. Proper care, nutrition, and management are required for their well-being.
The Cornish Cross chicken has shaped the landscape of the poultry industry, emphasizing the importance of selective breeding and genetic manipulation in meeting the demands of meat production. The story serves as a reminder of the intricate balance between innovation, profitability, and the welfare of the birds themselves, providing valuable insights for both industry professionals and aspiring poultry enthusiasts.
To discover more about other fascinating chicken breeds, take a look at our other articles.
Questions & Answers
Q: What is so special about the Cornish Cross Chicken?
A: The Cornish Cross was specifically engineered to be a meat production bird, they mature to production weight in only 6 to 8 weeks.
Q: What is the lifespan of a Cornish Cross Chicken?
A: Unfortunately, due to their special breeding they are not destined to live long lives, in fact, if kept to an age of only 12 weeks they will begin to suffer with leg and joint issues and heart problems.
Q: What are the pros and cons of Cornish Cross Chickens?
A: Pros: They are very fast-growing and provide good quality flesh with excellent flavor. Cons: They can suffer from health problems from a young age and don’t live very long.