Raising Cornish Cross Meat Chickens At High Altitude
This article is written by Crystal B from Colorado. She is a loyal Meyer Hatchery customer and graciously shares her experience raising the Cornish cross meat chicken at high altitude. Thank you, Crystal, for sharing your knowledge with us on your experience and success.
This year I have taken on the fun journey of raising jumbo Cornish cross broilers. Previous to having the Cornish cross broilers, I have been raising a small flock of egg layers for five years. The next natural next step was to raise and process our own meat birds. The Cornish cross broiler was our choice of bird because of the fast growth rate.
I purchased 25 Cornish cross broilers from Meyer Hatchery. We live in Colorado at over 7,000 feet above sea level. Cornish cross broilers are a little more difficult to raise because of the potential for heart issues when raised at high altitudes. I was also drawn to Cornish cross boilers because of their fast growth rate and meat quality.
All the chicks arrived healthy despite it snowing outside. We strategically planned to have the chicks arrive in mid-April. In Colorado, it can snow into June. It did snow on June 1, 2022. We planned to keep them in the brooder until the weather was warm enough for them to be transferred outside.
The first two weeks were pretty standard for raising chicks. We kept them warm and ensured they had water and plenty of food. After the initial two weeks, we started alternating their food access to 12 hours on 12 hours off. We were strict about their schedule because of our altitude. You do need to slow their growth at this altitude. The broiler‘s muscle mass grows faster than its internal organs. Slowing the muscle mass growth lessens the gap between muscle mass and organ development. If you do not take this precaution, you will likely lose some of your birds to heart failure.
We moved our chicks out to an a-frame coop at six weeks old. We chose not to do a chicken tractor because of the cold weather. A chicken tractor is generally open on all sides. With the temperature still dropping into the 20s in late May, this is not an ideal situation for the broilers. Unlike our egg layers, the broiler‘s body temperature does not regulate easily. You need it to be in the 50s with a dry and draft-free enclosure for the night. At this point, we had to bring our chicks into the brooder at night, then back out to the a-frame during the day.
The next week the weather warmed up, and the chicks could stay permanently out in the a-frame. I was advised to keep the broilers in a barn, a garage, or a fully enclosed area. Unfortunately, we don’t have a barn, so we built the a-frame coop for them.
At 8 weeks and 3 days, I processed all of our birds. The average weight per bird was about five pounds. We were happy with that weight because we were growing these birds at high altitude. We were not expecting to have seven or eight-pound birds.
After processing some birds, I pulled one of them before bagging it and cooked it up for my husband and son. They both have not had such fresh chicken in their lives. My husband especially enjoyed the quality of meat and how tender and juicy these birds are.
This journey was amazing for our family. We will be ordering more birds from Meyer Hatchery next year. I will say this was our first go-around, and we have learned a lot. One big thing I would have changed is my arrival day. I probably would have had the chicks arrive in early May instead of mid-April. That’s only because it’s still so cold here in Colorado in April. The biggest takeaway is that we took responsibility for our food. We have become more self-sufficient in this journey. We also were able to instill an appreciation of where our food comes from in our son.
For those who are considering raising Cornish cross broilers at high altitudes, please know that this experience will be much more hands-on. For us, the extra work was well worth being able to process at eight weeks. Overall, I would say going with Cornish cross broilers has been a significant advantage over other breeds because of their fast growth and high-quality meat.
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