The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Dark Cornish chickens

Dark CornishNext week, the cuteness quotient of the Walden Effect will be rising considerably.  We ordered 16 chicks as the first step in solving our chicken reproduction problem.  The goal is to start a self-sustaining flock in a forest pasture --- which I'll be explaining in much greater depth next week on our chicken blog.

After a great deal of research, we settled on the Dark Cornish as this year's experimental chicken breed.  Unlike the white, waddly Cornish Cross chickens that share their name (and a bit of their genetics), Dark Cornish chickens are wiley and nearly feral in their ability to sustain themselves on pasture.  They are also very good at avoiding predators, and one blog even suggested that Dark Cornishes can kill a marauding fox!

The only disadvantage of the Dark Cornish is that the chickens take about twenty weeks to reach cooking size, far longer than most other broilers.  But I've read that their flavor more than makes up for the wait.  If our forest pasture experiment works out, feed costs won't be an issue, so we're excited to give the new system a shot.

Check out our homemade chicken waterers, which will definitely be part of our new forest pasture setup.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I can't wait to learn how this one turns out. Ben and I were just looking at Dark Cornish in the catalog. We figured feed costs would be too big a drawback, but pasturing would solve that one!
Comment by Bethany Wed Mar 3 09:40:19 2010

We will definitely keep you posted! From what I've read, Dark Cornish doesn't sound like a good broiler choice if you're going to be paying for most of its feed, but if you can find a way to put it out in the semi-wild, it might be just the ticket.

Most people go for Cornish crosses for broilers in more conventional settings. They do bulk up fast and probably give you the most meat for your feed money. There are a bunch of heirloom breeds that are midway between Cornish crosses and Dark Cornish in terms of their feed to meat ratio. I'd love to hear about what you decide to try and how it goes!

Comment by anna Wed Mar 3 14:03:08 2010
This sounds like a very interesting topic. Years ago we bought some Dark Cornish for that reason. I believe I only had 2 females and 1 male but that male was a mean one. His colors were very pretty, especially in the sun, and he kept very good care of his ladies. I do believe he could have killed a fox too. I think we got tired of being attacked so the poor fellow ended up in the tackle box (actually, only his feathers) for future fly tying and that ruined the experiment. However, I'll bet yours will work out fine. I will be interested to hear about how this goes. Some more kindred spirit confirmation. :)
Comment by HeatherW Wed Mar 3 15:33:54 2010
Ours had better not be mean! Hopefully, with over a dozen males to choose from, we'll be able to pick a relatively nice one as the keeper and eat all the mean ones. Fascinating that you'd given them a shot --- I'd never heard of them before I started researching.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 3 15:40:34 2010
Oooh, I can't wait. Maybe it will help reduce my chicken coveting problems. Nah, it will probably make it worse. ;)
Comment by Eliza Wed Mar 3 20:08:23 2010

I couldn't wait either...until, that is, I woke up extra early this morning thinking, "Ack! Chicks coming in just a few days! We have to figure out a brood box, etc!" :-)

By the way, I didn't comment, but I loved your most recent post on mushrooms over on your blog!!

Comment by anna Thu Mar 4 06:46:34 2010

That's just like me too. My husband made me promise (after doing this to him once) that I'd never get chicks or the like until he had the stuff built for them that they needed. However, Anna, you are so handy with tools that this is probably not an issue. I need to learn them too. :)

I heard a cute story about chicks last year when we met a fellow who told us about his first batch of chicks about 20 years prior. He had prepared a nice coop for them with straw and the like. I think he had a little drip watering system for them as well. After getting them all settled in he went out for the evening. When he came home he went to check on the chicks and something had happened with his watering system whereby all of the little chicks were soaking wet and floating around. He took them all out and put them on the lid of his wood stove (not too hot), dried them off, flipped them over, and to his great surprise, they all lived. I thought that was such a cute story. :)

Comment by HeatherW Fri Mar 5 16:44:27 2010

Well, I probably could have made a brood coop, but not in the 15 minutes after the post office calls up and tells us our chicks are here! It's awfully easy to assume we can pull it together at the last minute, but I'm glad we're prepared.

That's a great chick story. :-) I hope our chicks are that resilient (but don't have to deal with any traumas!

Comment by anna Fri Mar 5 19:22:20 2010

Hi! Can you tell me how this has turned out for you? We are thinking of raising Dark Cornish ourselves. Are there any other blogs that refer to this?

Please post a response on my blog. Thank you!

Comment by Stone Cottage Mama Wed Jan 19 10:39:33 2011
The short answer is that they were delicious, but I was disappointed in their lack of ability to forage, which meant that we spent a lot more per pound of meat raising them than we would have with another breed.  You can read the longer version about Dark Cornish economics on my blog --- (or just click the link.)  Once you get to that page, you can click on various links within the sum-up post and see information about each step along the path.  Good luck!
Comment by anna Wed Jan 19 12:09:58 2011

There's not another chicken like this breed. They are definetly survivors and do well under pressure from varmits. Hens are the very best at sitting on nest and raising chicks. Sitting hens always approach their yard nests from different directions. If you collect their eggs they'll find another place to lay. I once got severly flogged by a hen at night protecting her eggs in a dark hen house which is extremely rare nocturnal behavior for chickens in general. The roosters are very powerful. Like other cocks if they get too protective of their flock just taken them away from thhe hens for awhile and they'll mellow out. I've owned many breeds and would not raise anything else but pure Dark Cornish. They will flourish in the wild.

Comment by Mike Sun Jan 30 22:36:03 2011
I love hearing about other peoples' experiences with Dark Cornish. I've read a lot lately that suggests that many of the birds you get from hatcheries have been bred for perfect adherence to physical traits, which can water down the nonphysical traits of a breed. It sounds like you and I got very different batches of birds!
Comment by anna Mon Jan 31 08:48:48 2011
There are definately different strains of Dark Cornish out there. Mine pretty much forage even over the winter. It was 9 degrees when I let them out this morning and they made a bee line straight for the hay. I never worry about spiders or even Norway rats in there any more as my Dark Cornish will take care of them. When there is no snow covering they have reduced the bug populations to very little. We have 15 varieties of chickens and the Dark Cornish are the only ones I don't see at the feeder. They are wonderful layers and the best mothers. We have two setting eggs to hatch in Jan. Late this fall they led the charge to chase off a fox. Course if I have them chasing me with blood lust I would run too. Mine are also super gentle. I can pick up any of them. We do not have a rooster for them, but are ordering 50 straight run so we should be able to pick our a couple of them. We have 15 other roos that will keep the young boys in line. I don't tolerate nasty roosters and have no problem showing em who's the biggest meanest chicken around. My roosters keep well away from me and treat their hens well or I eat em.
Comment by ann Wed Jan 18 21:27:29 2012
I've come to the same conclusion about strains of certain breeds. Unfortunately, when you get your birds from a hatchery, they've been bred for looks and ability to survive in a hatchery setting, which isn't very useful for people trying to raise self-sufficient farm birds. I'd be curious to hear where you got your Dark Cornish?
Comment by anna Thu Jan 19 10:43:38 2012
I have a mixed flock including about 25 dark cornish. Of all the chickens I have ever had, the dark cornish are by far the best foragers I have ever seen. They are a slow growing compared to most other chickens. They do lay more eggs than I expected even in the middle of winter (Far Northern California). As long as they have water they are completely self sufficient and thrive foraging in the woods behind my house. I do provide feed, but they mostly eat what ever they find out in the woods. They are quite good at flying and I have not lost any to predators. There are Coyotes, Raccoons, Opossums, Foxes, Bobcats, even a rare Mountain Lion. I do have a large Rottweiler that deters predator from getting too close and he does not eat the chickens.
Comment by Wyatt Tue Feb 14 12:25:50 2012
It sounds like your Dark Cornish are an inspiring set of birds! I'd be curious to hear where you got them, and what other varieties of chickens you've tried.
Comment by anna Tue Feb 14 15:09:03 2012
glad to hear someone knows about these birds i just got mine 2 weeks i'm hopeing they are as tough as advertised i live in western KY and hawks olws are every were along with all your four legged pred... been searching on for some stuff but they seeem to be a rare bird...
Comment by Anonymous Mon Apr 23 15:14:15 2012
I've raised these birds a few times. Don't let the bodyweight fool you, its all muscle and i've clipped wings to stop them flying over an 8 foot fence. But they'll damage their feet from a high roost (feet will crack and mites move in) so gine them a low roost. These birds must be "cooped" to gain weight or they'll run around and be lean. Want something cheap to feed, get geese, they're nothing but cows with two feet. Roman geese seem to be best.
Comment by Bert Weiss Sat May 19 14:14:30 2012
Bert --- It's true that the most economical meat comes from birds in confinement, but that meat also isn't very good for you. I think it's worth thinking outside the box to discover ways to make real pastured chickens economical as well as delicious and nutritious. We've had very good luck with Black Australorps in that regard, but they definitely don't produce carcasses that look like supermarket chickens.
Comment by anna Sat May 19 19:18:20 2012

I loved your Dark Cornish information. I came across your page when I was considering increasing the number of dark Cornish in my flock and thought I'd see what others' experiences of them were.

FWIW- We have heavy predation by bobcats and coyotes. The only Dark Cornish that died was the one that was trapped in the coop with the bobcat and was too heavy to fly. If they're out of the coop though, they seem wily enough to get away.

I haven't had the experience of them hatching out and I've had them for about three years but I suspect that's a result of brooding on secret nests on the wrong side fo the fence line which results in the eggs being stolen. I will have a hen go missing and then reappear.

I find they're moderate layers, definitely hardy through winter, and consistently laying through winter (which is my preference).

I have them in with the mixed flock so it's difficult to guage the amount they're eating. I can say that when I give grain and kitchen scraps at the same time, they're always the ones that run for the kitchen scraps.

Mine are from McMurray and I do see some differences in them. Some are lighter and some are more "pure" looking but for the most part, I have found them exactly as described. I have to tell you too - they will look small but everyone we have butchered has felt extremely heavy/dense and been the most delicious chicken we have ever eaten (and at this point, we've eaten just about every breed out there!).

I haven't really had them misbehave. The roos will fit for dominance if confined but mine have so much space it hasn't been a problem. I currently have six of so roos with no problems. None are Cornish presently (we ate them all). I also found the older roos were ok to eat too which I loved. They needed a slow cook, of course, but responded much better to the braise than a lot of other roos I've butchered later.

I have a friend who just gave me her last two hens. She's got a much, much smaller set up and found she was having trouble with them. Here, they fit in perfectly and are doing just fine.

I am ordering more because I want to get to a self-perpetuating flock. I figure those guys with some white giants should make a great meat cross, that still give eggs and keep the flock going. The downside of these guys is that I do think this is a breed that needs more space to keep it out of trouble so they're not an ideal pick for a smaller chicken yard.

Comment by Colleen Wed May 7 09:43:33 2014

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