Why I’m Giving the (very unpermaculture-ish) Cornish Cross a Chance
By Justin Rhodes
Justin Rhodes of Permaculture Chickens talks about why he believes in the power of compromising, and why he’s giving the Cornish Cross a chance.
I’m pretty much the “apron wearing permaculture chickens ninja master” ya’ll, so it may seem strange why I’d try such a stunt as to raise this crazy hybrid meat bird.
There’s a reason… There’s actually five of em, but first a quick story…
I recently held a webinar for the customers of my film, “Permaculture Chickens ”.
During the pre-chat, someone mentioned that they were in a McDonald’s.
I took about a half of a second to think, “that’s a tad strange that someone interested in Permaculture would be at McDonalds. They’re probably just using their internet, or maybe they are eating at McDonalds. But, who cares? It’s their journey, I’ll meet with them where they’re at”.
Didn’t think anymore of it, till a disgruntled grump butt emailed me complaining, “what was somebody doing in McDonalds listening to your webinar, they might as well have been at the offices of Monsanto”.
So what if they were at Monsanto? Who better than someone in the heart of the “beast” to influence for the the good? Do we always want to preach to the choir, or do we want to help those who are searching for better solutions?
I, for one, want to meet people where they are in their journey. EVEN if it’s not the same journey I’m on.
I tell that story to say something Geoff Lawton (pretty much the grandson of Permaculture) taught me…
Hard to hear, but true. You’ve got a computer, don’t you? Well, if you threw it in your compost pile when it broke down, your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson will finally see it disappear (450 years later).
Raising Cornish Crosses could definitely be considered a compromise to living a sustainable life.
Just look at the dirty ugly truth…
- Cardiovascular dysfunction – Selection and husbandry for very fast growth means there is a genetically-induced mismatch between the energy supplying organs of the broiler and its energy-consuming organs.
- Skeletal dysfunction – Breeding for increased breast muscle means that the broilers’ centre of gravity has moved forward and their breasts are broader compared with their ancestors. This affects the way they walk and puts additional stresses on their hips and legs. The older a bird gets the more you’ll notice it. They’ll begin to lay around more and when they do walk (more like waddling).
- Withheld food – Adult breeders are genetically wired to grow fast so they’re always hungry. This amazing growth rate can also be a detriment because if you give them access to food all the time they will eat themselves sick or dead! As a solution, the adult breeder birds are given rations throughout their entire lives, resulting in chronic hunger stress.
- Mortality rate – According to Wiki, mortality rates are seven times greater than that of layer chickens. Closer to home, in our own natural chicken community, Paul Wheaton of Permies.com has experienced mortality rates from 15-30%!
So, why am I giving these guys a chance? Here’s my top 5 reasons.
Reason #1 – Being 100% sustainable from my farm is NOT my #1 goal. Providing for my family, IS. Sure, being sustainable is a HUGE part of the means to that end, but it’s not the deeper reason of why I do what I do. This explains why I’ll buy veggies out of season sometimes, or work using a computer and even drink my tea that’s all the way from India.
Reason #2 – One word… ECONOMICS. In the pursuit of providing healthy food for my family that doesn’t break the bank (so I can stay home with my family), it’s hard to dismiss the fact that the Cornish Cross takes half the time to grow as a traditional chicken and weighs twice as much! All while consuming roughly the same amount of feed.
Reason #3 – The three J’s. First it was Joel Salatin who influenced me. It’s the bird he’s been raising for meat for 40 years. And, when I visited his farm last summer these chickens were NOT the nightmares you see and hear about. Then, I saw this lady named Jay Green on Permies.com talking about her success with these things. I couldn’t believe my eyes. These little critters were acting just like “real” chickens running around, hopping, foraging etc…
Finally, my friend Jonathan (a total beginner) got some and treated them just like chickens (I don’t think he “knew” better) and now, I couldn’t believe my ears, when he told me how well they were doing. He brought them over for butchering way past their due date (8 weeks) and I was shocked to see bright eyed birds, fully standing and nervous to be alive.
Reason #4 – I’ll be honest. Will you? It’s what we’re used to eating. Granted, my heritage birds are better tasting (barely need salt and pepper). But, have you ever seen the carcass of a heritage bird (16 weeks old)? Sort of like looking at one of those crazy rubber chicken toys. And the breasts? Nope… not gonna do it. Where I’m at right now, I like that thick, predictable, easy to use breast for our favorites like Chicken Curry, Chicken Alfredo, Chicken Parmesan, Mexican chicken meals, Japanese steak and chicken… shall I go on? I realize I’ll need to explore a new mindset in our diet, before I dismiss the cornish cross altogether, I’m just not there yet, and I’m not ashamed of that.
Reason #5– It just might be my round about path to 100% sustainability. How in the world? If I’m getting twice the amount of meat, in half the time for the same amount of feed input then suddenly I’ve got MUCH more time and money on my hands to invest in other projects on my homestead. Projects, like planting an orchard, getting pigs, introducing bees etc…
I understand, raising these birds might take a hair more precaution… Although, it seems like if you just treat them like a chicken (good food, fresh air, encourage them to forrage), they’ll act like a chicken.
Here are some things I’m going to do to maximize success:
- Raise them on rotating pasture using chicken tractors, electric nets, or completely free range. Fresh grass helps with digestion and overall health.
- Train them to enjoy bugs and worms by feeding these things early on and giving them plenty of room to forage.
- Consider raising them with other, more vibrant chickens.
- Arrange it so they run out of feed for a few hours each day so growth rates slow and they are forced to forage for their food. “A hungry bird is a foraging bird,” according to permaculturalist, Jay Green.
- Ferment their feed to increase good bowel flora which will increase nutrient absorption.
Does all this mean I’m giving up traditional birds? No way! I continue to improve my line and experiment with their exceptional ability to reproduce, work, and survive off of the land. In the long run, they ARE, hands down, the top contender for sustainable success on the farm. I wouldn’t homestead without them.
So, that’s honestly where I’m at in the journey. Hopefully you’ve found some inspiration and encouragement from my rambling.
I love experimenting in breaking the “rules”… Planting seeds too close together, raising the cornish cross like a regular chicken and allowing the chickens to plant the garden, weeds and all.
Want to follow Justin’s journey? See him raise these Cornish Cross this summer:
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He is also doing a FREE video series right now in which he gives you access to 3 chapters of his film!