As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, this year is the first time we’ve decided to trial Cornish Cross chickens to see how they perform as prospective meat birds on our farm. Well, we just got our inaugural batch back from the processor last week, and more importantly, ate one Monday night. Spoiler alert: the results were staggering all around.
In the past we’ve culled whatever roosters we weren’t keeping for our laying flock and used those for our family chicken meat. We have processed those anywhere from 16-22 weeks of age and typically got an average size somewhere around 3.5 pounds. The last heritage chicken we have in our freezer currently weighs in at a whopping 3.84 pounds, which is actually a really nice eating size. As you can see from the photo, the carcass difference between the heritage chicken and the Cornish Cross is pretty mind-blowing. I remember the first time I picked up a batch of heritage birds from the processor; I couldn’t believe how scrawny they looked compared to what I was used to seeing at the grocery store. The last couple of years we have only eaten heritage birds and I’ve become quite accustom to the size of the birds. They’ve become my new normal.
Well, my mind was blown again with this pick-up from the processor. When they brought out the tubs filled with our chickens I could not believe the size of the birds I was seeing. It’s been several years since we’ve bought chicken from the store and I was no longer used to handling or seeing chickens of that size. Not only were they bigger than our heritage birds (at only 8 weeks of age), they were monsters! Now, perhaps I didn’t do my research well enough when I ordered our particular strain of Cornish Cross as it was billed as a “Jumbo Cornish Cross”. I’m guessing this strain was meant to grow out even faster than typical Cornish Cross, hence the “jumbo”, but I had assigned a traditional pastured poultry model of 8 weeks with 12 hours on and 12 hours off feeding regiment. In hindsight, these birds probably could have been processed at 6 weeks and still have produced an ideal 4-4.5 pounds carcass size. So, just how big were these birds? Here are the individual weights of each of the 19 chickens (and our 4 Muscovy drakes)
Cornish Cross Chickens (at 8 weeks)
Total Weight: 106.24#
Average Weight: 5.59#
Muscovy Drakes (at 10 months)
Pretty incredible numbers! I was expecting chickens in the 4-4.5# range…missed it by THAT much! I’m really glad we decided to do a trial run instead of jumping in and pre-selling a bunch of whole birds at an assumed 4# weight. I can’t imagine giving customers this size of bird. I don’t think many people would be too keen on forking over an extra $5 per bird based on these sizes. Luckily, these birds were always destined for our freezer, so it’s just bonus meat for our family. What this tells us now, though, is that we either need to find another strain that will grow a little slower so we hit our desired carcass size, or we continue using this strain and just cut down our time-to-process. The idea of being able to cut possibly two weeks of labor out of the equation is certainly appealing, but we may just do a couple more trials with more of this strain and some other strains to see if we can find the sweet spot for us.
Our Muscovy drakes went along for the ride to the processor because they were the brothers of our Muscovy ducks and Muscovies apparently don’t line breed very well. They were also really terrible to the chickens, so they had to go. We’ve been told that if you cook them properly you could mistake them for steak. This batch of fellas was around 10 months old, so we’re not sure how they’re going to cook up, but we’re looking forward to trying them. If they do in fact taste like steak, we will be ramping up our Muscovy “herd” until we can get real cattle.
With Shannon’s sister in town from San Francisco, we decided there couldn’t be a better time to cook up our very first homegrown Cornish Cross. Years ago we found a Rachel Ray recipe for a roasted chicken with spring veggies and we’ve made it roughly a bajillion times since. Basically you just fire the oven up to 500 degrees, coat the chicken in olive oil, put it on a baking sheet, sprinkle it with salt, and squeeze half a lemon over it. Cook it for 15 minutes or so and then add some quartered radishes, small potatoes, carrots, and green onions and cook it for 20 more minutes or until the veggies are tender and the chicken is cooked to the appropriate internal temperature. Since our bird was about 1.5# bigger than the one called for in the recipe, we decided to trust our oven’s probe and roasting setting to make sure we got the chicken cooked appropriately. We guessed on when to add the veggies based on the temp of the chicken and fortunately it all came out great. I should mention that the radishes came from the boys’ gardens and the chives came from our front landscaping bed (we like to grow food interplanted in our landscaping). If you don’t think you like radishes, give them a try roasted, it’s a game-changer. It really mellows out the spiciness and gives it a terrific flavor. The chicken had loads of tender, juicy meat and fed 5 of us with enough leftover to make chicken enchiladas the next night. After eating heritage chicken for so long, it was surprising to see how much white meat and breast meat comes off these birds. Even the leg meat is much lighter than the heritage leg meat. While we’re fans of dark meat, it is nice to have a less toothy texture and a more forgiving array of cooking methods to work with. I’m really looking forward to parsing up one of these birds and grilling it with some bbq sauce and maybe smoking a whole bird.
Overall we couldn’t be happier with the meat these chickens provided us. It certainly seems like this will be our go-to meat variety on our farm, although we will always have some extra rooster culls to fill any desire we have for heritage meat. We will keep you posted on future trial results and hopefully we’ll have some meat for sale later this Summer or next Spring. We also have a couple broody hens on clutches of eggs, so we’ll let you know if anything exciting comes of that!