Bill did a lot of reading and thinking when deciding which sorts of chickens we'd like to keep on our little farm. He went with the barred rock because of their low maintenance life style. As a traditional breed, they seem more natural in that they are good foragers and know how to brood their own babies.
But to fill out the minimum order of 25 birds, we also ordered a bunch of Cornish X (Cornish Cross, CC) meat birds.
While our barred rocks will live a fab-o organic, free-range (when possible) lifestyle, the cornish crosses will be in our freezer before they are big enough to live outside. According to this blogger, that is just as well.
For me, raising them has been a horrible experience. CC are not like real chickens. They are a factory farm cross breed made by crossing a Cornish with a White Rock. Their intelligence and alert foraging abilities have been bred out of them. They have massive, fast-growing bodies with short, thick legs. These legs will literally go out from under them when reaching about 8 or 9 weeks of age. They just can’t support their own weight. They have congestive heart failure quite easily. Rarely, and I do mean rarely, one will live as long as a year. But CC are an industry bird, and those grocery store chickens you see with the plump white meat, well, those are them. And they basically just eat, drink, and poop and prefer to be in a cool, confined space, unlike a normal chicken, who craves scratching, eating fresh grasses, and sleeping in sunlight. Cornish Cross chickens are the edible freaks of the chicken world.She tried letting her cornish crosses out in the outside pen with the rest of her birds, but a few died within a few hours because they didn't know how to stay out of the sun or to drink water when it wasn't right in front of them.
Industrializing food has interesting consequences. Barred rock chickens, a current favorite of small farms and backyard chicken-raisers, were first bred in the early 1800 but were recently in danger of extinction because they lay cream colored (not white) eggs, which are not good for industrial processes. And while they are decent layers and decent for meat, they aren't exceptional at either. I assume as industry moved toward breeds like cornish crosses, more traditional breeds suffered.
The most complex issue concerning meat birds at all, at least for me, is the issue of “humane” meat growing. For some reason I believed that my way of raising Cornish Crosses would be more humane than their being raised on a factory farm. Now I’m not so sure. I thought raising them in fresh air and sunshine would be good for them, and they died. Where a factory farm has controlled heating and cooling specifically designed for meat birds, and they are bred to be comfortable under those conditions. Those who rally against factory farmed birds being mistreated by not having access to the outdoors (i.e. free-ranging), maybe have the wrong argument. Just because these birds have never seen the sun, never felt grass beneath their toes, or have lived long enough to mount or crow, doesn’t mean they are being mistreated. Cornish Crosses are engineered to eat, drink, and poop. It is all they care about and it is all they can manage to do, anyway.