The Cornish chicken is a strong and stocky bird that originally comes from England.
They are described as a curious, independent chicken, not to be confused with the Cornish cross.
So, if you’re interested in a hardy chicken that provides excellent table fare, and adds some personality to your coop, you can find all these qualities and more in this English breed.
Let’s start by looking at their history and then we’ll delve into their breed profile, egg production, temperament, and general care.
The Background and History of Cornish Chickens
Cornish chickens are fantastic birds but they don’t always receive the recognition they deserve. It is important to mention that Cornish chickens were bred from the Indian Game which is a type of game bird – a really tough breed of fowl that lacked the desired fullness needed in a decent meat bird.
While Cornish chickens were originally known as Indian game chickens, they are in fact an English class chicken and do not come from India at all.
The breed’s formation dates back to 1820 when Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert from England combined the robust Indian Game with the Red Aseel chicken he obtained from India. The result was the Cornish chicken that was first shown in Cornwall, England in 1858.
When the original Indian game birds arrived in America, they were accepted into the American Poultry Association in 1893. Only when their classification changed from oriental to English were they renamed Cornish Chickens in the early 1900s.
DID YOU KNOW
The Cornish Hen is still called an Indian Game Chicken in Australia and by the Poultry Club of Great Britain. The breed is only known as Cornish chickens in America.
During the 1890s to 1900s, the White Cornish and White Indian Game were the two varieties recognized by poultry clubs and the hens used for the broiler industry. In 1909, the White Laced Red Cornish was accepted followed by the Buff types but not the dark Cornish until much later.
Is the Cornish Cross the Same as the Cornish Indian Game?
It’s easy to get confused between the Cornish Cross and Indian Game because both breeds are related and similar in appearance apart from the dark variety.
Cornish Crosses are bred from pairing the Cornish Chicken with the White Plymouth Rock for broiler purposes. This cross produces tender white meat and a large breast making it a favorable choice for the table.
The chicken meat you buy at the grocery store consists of young birds of Cornish hens and the Cornish Cross.
While the White Rock is popular for its meat qualities, there is plenty to mention about the Cornish chicken and its purpose in the poultry world. Today, the dark Cornish with its yellow skin has made a lasting impression as meat and show birds.
What is the Difference Between a Chicken and a Cornish Hen?
The Cornish Game hen is a pure chicken breed also known as the Indian game bird whereas the Cornish hen is the name given to a rapidly maturing hybrid bird that is harvested early for meat purposes. Some Cornish cross chicks are harvested as early as 6-8 weeks in the broiler industry.
Cornish chickens are slow-growing in comparison to the Cornish hen.
You’ll hear about Cornish hens being prepared for the table which is considered higher quality meat compared to game chickens.
The Appearance of Cornish Chickens
Cornish chickens are mean-looking birds and some even have the personality to match! They have short legs that are set wide apart giving them a stocky appearance.
Their skin color is yellow compared to the cream or tinted white skin of Cornish Crosses. If you offer them a fair amount of fresh grass while foraging, you may notice brighter yellow legs and feet.
They have a large pea comb consisting of three rows which is the same size in both males and females. The pea comb will eventually become a large mass on the top of their heads lacking shape or distinction.
Cornish chicken males and females have the same breed standard!
They have small red ear lobes and wattles but a thick curved beak that is a horn color. Their feathers are quite slim and sit close to the body with little density for insulation. This lack of fluffiness also makes it harder for them to tolerate the cold.
Size and Weight
A mature Cornish hen will reach a hefty weight of 8 lbs while the roosters weigh 9-10 lbs.
In 1887 Cornish Indian bantams were accepted and had the same stature and appearance as their larger counterparts.
You can find Cornish chickens in the accepted varieties of White, White Laced Red, and Buff colors. The most common variety is the Dark Cornish.
The Dark or Black Cornish Game females will also have a beautiful light brown pattern across her breast and wing feathers. The roosters are dark or black with a mottled green sheen across their feathers when exposed to sunlight.
Unique Color Types
The colors including double laced blue, dark, and jubilee which is a combination of white with brown speckled feathers, are recognized by the poultry clubs of the UK and Australia but not the American Poultry Association.
Breeders continue to focus their efforts on developing unique colors within this heritage breed such as blue, blue laced red, and mottled but none of these exotic types are accepted by established poultry clubs.
How to Sex Cornish Chicks?
Cornish chicks can be automatically sexed based on feather growth. As soon as their feathers start to grow when they turn a few days old, the females will have a laced pattern on the wings while the males are dark with changes occurring as they mature.
Heritage Breed Conservation
The Livestock Conservancy has placed this breed on their watch list owing to the dwindling numbers in both the UK and the US. The Cornish chicken is considered rare but has been maintained by dedicated breeders.
Cornish Chickens Versus Hybrids
Of all the American breeds bred for table fare, the Cornish game hens and Cornish Cross chickens are popular meat birds. The Cornish chicken differs from typical meat birds in that they tend to develop muscle rather than fat.
The game chickens originally from Cornwall are also slow-growing in comparison to crossbreeds developed for both meat and egg laying.
Their short legs are thick compared to regular chicken breeds which also makes them prone to injuries and chronic conditions of the leg joints.
Indian Game Egg Production
Cornish chickens are terrible egg layers and you’ll be lucky if you happen to get 160 eggs per year. Their short legs and unique body shape also makes it more challenging for them to carry eggs and continuously lay.
Because the purebred Cornish chicken was developed for meat purposes, it is in her meat that she excels but certainly not her eggs.
Getting a Cornish to Lay More Eggs
For breeders who want their Indian Game hens to lay more eggs, they typically cross breed them with egg layers such as the White Plymouth Rock.
This chicken breed also likes to free range so if you find your eggs missing from the nest box, it could be somewhere in the grass!
What Color Eggs Does a Cornish Game Hen Lay?
Their egg color is tinted to light brown and small to medium in size despite their rather large and robust appearance.
How Long Does It Take a Cornish Chicken to Mature for Meat?
Cornish game hens were bred to produce lean meat so they have a lot less fat compared to standard chickens. The mature weight and size of a standard hen also doubles that of Cornish chickens.
A Cornish Game hen only takes 28 days to mature; however, it doesn’t reach the fullness of a traditional chicken breed.
What is Cornish Chicken Meat Quality Like?
The pure breed Cornish chickens have large appetites but slow growing birds compared to the cross breeds such as the Cornish Hybrids and crosses with the White Plymouth Rock. The flavor of their meat is very strong and the texture is said to improve with free ranging.
While Cornish hens are known for their plumpness and provide ample table fare, the Cornish chicken meat is very lean.
Do Cornish Chickens Get Broody?
Most egg layers will become broody at some point during the season but you wouldn’t think the same of a meat bird. Well, the Cornish chicken certainly turns that theory on its head!
The hens tend to become broody quite often but despite her best efforts to hatch eggs, her slim feathering results in poor hatch rates.
If you are looking for a hen to hatch chicks, it is better to consider some of your other breeds or crosses for this purpose.
Are Cornish Chickens Aggressive?
The Cornish chicken was bred from the Indian Game bird, which is a hardy and aggressive breed. While today’s Cornish chickens are easier to handle than their predecessors, they can be temperamental and bossy when it comes to other chicken breeds. They aren’t the calmest birds because their blood contains strains known for fighting.
Does the Cornish Get Along with Other Chickens?
While personality and temperament will depend on the individual bird, these chickens have inherited some of their Malay stroppiness, and housing them with more docile breeds could be a problem.
If you want a mixed flock, it might be a better idea to look at friendly breeds including their hybrid counterparts or Cornish crosses.
Cornish chickens require a spacious enclosure and they like to be at the top of the pecking order. They also need to free range quite regularly to avoid issues of boredom and stress. Having chicken toys can help with this issue.
They do make very protective mothers and will stand their ground should other chickens or their handlers come near their chicks.
Do They Make Good Pet Chickens?
This depends on the individual personality of the chicken but most are not ideal as pet chickens especially if you’re looking for a lap bird.
Are Cornish Chickens Hardy?
Interestingly, Cornish chickens were not bred with insulating feathers and you will notice that their sleek and tight-knit feathering creates a streamlined appearance.
Despite the best efforts of breeders, these chickens are not cold-hardy and require a warm, insulated coop to protect them in winter. These chickens are hardy in the right environment and both the males and females will fiercely defend their chicks if they feel threatened.
Are Cornish Chickens Healthy?
While a tough and generally healthy breed, the Cornish chicken can suffer from persistent leg problems.
Their stockiness and the width between their legs make them prone to joint degeneration and arthritis, ligament tears, and leg injuries.
If your chicken starts limping or favoring one leg, it is important to get advice from your vet concerning treatment. Managing leg issues in such a heavy breed can be challenging and do more harm than good without professional veterinary care.
As meat birds they simply love to eat! They have no ‘off switch when it comes to food and even if their crops are full they will insist on eating that last morsel! Such greedy birds can be entertaining to watch but the bigger issue is the risk of crop impaction and sour crop.
A crop impaction or impacted crop happens when there is too much food inside the crop and it forms a hard mass.
The food that does not move out of the crop for digestion will start to ferment creating a haven for all types of bad bacteria. It can make chickens extremely sick with the risk of death if not treated in time.
This chicken breed is plagued by the usual pests such as lice and mites. To prevent these parasites from causing serious issues, ensure your chickens have access to a sandy area for dust bathing. You can also dust bath them yourself with a poultry compatible powder.
They will reach the typical lifespan of similar-sized breeds which is 5-8 years of age.
This unique chicken breed was developed by Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert and originally comes from England and not India contrary to their name! In 1852, the breed was accepted by the American Poultry Association but despite their strong heritage, today they have been listed as rare by the Livestock Conservancy.
It is important not to confuse the Cornish chicken with the Cornish hen. Cornish hens are the meat birds you’ll typically find at the grocery store while the Cornish chicken is bred from Malay and game lines to produce a very muscular meat chicken with streamlined feathers.
Cornish chicken is not a good egg layer but if you want your hen to produce more eggs, it is better to cross them with a well-known egg laying breed to improve production.
They are very heavy and muscular making for a fairly good meat bird; however, they are not known for their cold hardiness because they lack the down feathers needed for insulation.
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