Catalog shopping: chickens on order!


Chickens are on the way! On the left, a reportedly prolific brown egg producer, the Shaver Red Sex-Link. On the right, the reputedly hardy, healthy Frey’s Special Dual Purpose as our meat bird.

I almost broke a pretty basic rule on this one—get your questions answered first!—and ordered White Rock Cornish X for meat. Chatting with Bob, we’d decided on the Frey’s Special, but at the last minute—on the phone ordering them from the feed store—I asked about the Frey’s, and was told that “99%” of the small quantity meat birds were “White Rock” (meaning WR Cornish X), that people were often disappointed with the dual purpose for meat, that for meat, White Rock is the way to go. White Rock! White Rock!

So I got off the phone, and did some quick extra research. Talked to Bob again, who said the thousands of meat chickens he’s raised were all White Rock, BUT, they have to stay indoors, WR just stand around and EAT, which is why he thought Frey’s would be better for outdoors.

Next, hit the Web, and found stories of people successfully free-ranging WRs, even in the heat. BUT, they also said things like: “They did wander around a lot but nothing like the regular birds. They did all the normal bird things just a whole lot less gracefully. Only thing they couldn’t do was perch or fly.” Hmmm…

Which took me back to the original stuff I’d read in the hatchery catalog, things like: “Unfortunately, the White Rock’s increased efficiency at feed conversion has not been matched by improvements in the bird’s cardiovascular system. Simply put, too often the bird’s heart just can’t keep up with the rest of its body.” Yikes… Hello flip-over disease (aka Sudden Death Syndrome, aka…heart attacks), which tends to afflict the biggest, healthiest birds… And there’s lots more disease warnings, feeding restrictions, general strict instructions… Extremely fast-growing meat chickens, no doubt, and I’ll probably try some…later, but too weird for now…

For good measure, I got through to the Frey’s hatchery. The woman on the phone was great. She said most people just want to produce meat quick and go for the WRs, and they may do OK free-ranging, but really, they’ve been bred for rapid growth in a controlled broiler barn environment, AND, for a hardy, free-ranging, TASTY meat bird, dual purpose are great, friends of hers raise the Frey’s Special and love ’em. So Frey’s Special Dual Purpose it is, more traditional chickens that grow a little slower and weigh a little less, but can actually have fun, run around, eat insects, scratch in the dirt, and won’t…flip over! There are 50 2-week Frey’s Special cockerels coming either April 16 or 30, and 25 ready-to-lay Red Sex-Link on June 23.

Entering the world of CHICKENS, I’m excited!

(UPDATE: After writing this post, I read the comments below, did some more online reading, and switched the order to 40 White Rock Cornish X and 10 Frey’s Special…)

(UPDATE 2: It’s a year and a half later, and we recently processed a second flock of White Rocks. My original last-minute double-switch to White Rocks was a good one. I still want to raise other breeds, but you absolutely can keep healthy, free-ranging WRs, and they do get to a good size!)

19 thoughts on “Catalog shopping: chickens on order!”

  1. Chickens can be an evil thing. Not that they do anything wrong but that you will sit down to watch them and next thing you know a half hour or more has past. They are the “other television”. Just the same if you have time they can be fun to have around. I can also second the x-rocks just laying down next to the feeder. I told a friend of mine that all they did was “eat and defecate.” he asked me if perhaps I had expected them to do the Sunday crossword or something.

  2. we have raised the white rocks for many years ……we don’t have the flip outs.
    we feed them our own organic grain ration and get them outside as soon as possible…they act like real chickens here and they do grow more slowly resulting in good taste

  3. We’ve raised only one bad batch of cornish crosses. They were last year’s birds. It was probably a combination of bad birds and waiting until cooler weather.

    They can’t be disgusting eating machines if you don’t put food right in front of them. I keep the birds inside at night to keep them safe from predators. In the morning I feed them about a quarter of what they need for the day outside. They’re on their own the rest of the day to find their own food. They’ll eat bugs, weed seeds, grasses and any frog, worm or mouse they can catch. They’re hell on grasshoppers. Later in the day I’ll feed them another quarter of what they need just outside the door. This makes them easier for the dog to herd in for the night.

    Just like us, movement makes their hearts stronger and keeps them from gaining weight too fast. It builds muscle with good texture for eating. Some will go to the pond for a drink when the find it, and take a dust bath any place they can find a spot of dirt.

  4. We haven’t done meat chickens yet, but our we have experimented a lot with laying hens. Really like the red sex-link (we get ours from McMurray’s), we tried the black sex-link hens and found them to be quite aggressive. A lot more cannibalization. We also have a few traditional breeds. They all do well on pasture, though the traditional breeds seem to lay a bit less. You can see our chickens, goats, and other micro-farm stuff on my blog You’ve a great site here. Keep it up.

  5. Mike,

    We were in exactly your position last year. I was ordering from Frey’s with the same thoughts you are having. I decided to order 20 of each. I free-ranged them (well, I used the Joel Salatin style “chicken tractors”) and this is what I found:

    – the WR are definitely harder to raise. They are delicate birds that grow very fast. They can be grown outside and I think growing them inside wouldn’t really make them easier to grow. They do however turn feed into meat very efficiently and taste wonderful when done. At about 7-8 weeks we had roughly 4 lb birds.

    – the Frey’s special dual purpose is just a cross of a couple of the regular breeds. They grow MUCH slower than the WR. At 8 weeks they would have been under 2 lbs each I think. We waited until 15 weeks and we got an average of maybe 3.2 lbs. Note that we had almost all female so males might be a pound heavier I guess. On the good side, these birds had no problems at all and were very resilient. On the bad side, they were not roasters at all. Roasted in the oven they came out tasty, but rubbery. That and the yellow fat makes them not what people are used to eating (maybe a couple generations ago it is what people were used to). We started slow cooking and pressure cooking them only. That way the meat was really good tasting and the resulting stock was fabulous.

    One mistake we made was putting the two varieties together. The WR got harrassed by the other birds and one was even killed outright and partially eaten. The WR don’t feather out fully for a long time and they can’t get away from curious and aggressive other birds. If you rais them, keep them separate from other breeds.

    If I do more this year I will do the hybrid WR meat birds again, despite the more difficulty in raising them. The meat texture was definitely superior and if I want to sell to anybody, I wouldn’t want to sell them a rubbery chicken. For our own use I’d be willing to use the Frey’s dual purpose again but it’s really only best for chicken salad, stock, pot pies, etc. Might not be worth the amount of feed you put into them, especially if you are buying organic (we did).

    Oh, and the red sex-link’s are great! We have 3 of them now that haven’t missed a day of egg laying since December. Amazing birds. We kept a rooster too, just to see some chicks hatch.

    Anyway, I hope our experience helps you somewhat.


  6. I have to echo what Chris said about raising them with other breeds they do get picked on.
    We only raised them once, because they were so disgusting to raise. Big dump eating machines. They would just lay in front of the feeder and poop. They did taste great but…We call them frankenchickens. Even taking them out into the alfalfa they didn’t recognize it as food.
    Have heard of freedom ranger which are supposed to grow almost as fast but are free rangers and “gourmet” birds. Have heard good things about them. Plan to try some this year.
    Good luck. Lisa

  7. I also agree with keeping them separate. We had a cannibal problem raising several varieties together. Our worst problem was legs, too much growth, too quickly for the legs to support. Their bones just do not match the rapid weight gain. Ours were a 4-H project , done collectively, so no free range or outside conditions allowed.


  8. I’m in agreement with Rick – say good bye to any free time you may have had :-D

    I’ve got Silver Laced Wyandottes mainly because they look pretty. I do hope to raise some chicks but have yet to research fully their meat status. While they lay sufficiently for me (3 out of the 4 are laying and I average about 2.5 eggs per day) I will be looking at some other (pretty) traditional birds to add to the flock this year.

    Thank you for your comment on your Plugging away post – I’ve been without Internet connection for the last 4 days and now have 42 posts on my reader to catch up on!

  9. Thanks!! What a luxury, all of this on point experience and advice! I read the comments earlier today, did a near 180 on yesterday’s 180 on the original meat bird decision, and phoned in an order change. So now it’s 10 Frey’s Special, and 40 White Rock. The results of WR’s extreme breeding is a little offputting, but I don’t consider them freaks as I would genetically modified animals, and I REALLY don’t like the idea of a lot of rubbery chicken, I know exactly what that’s like! Hopefully over time, I’ll be able to find a good, more traditional free-range meat bird, but for this first round, I’m all for playing it safe! It’ll be easy to make a new third section and door in the chickenhouse and a separate yard outside, so the breeds will be apart. And maybe the Frey’s will be a pleasant surprise!

  10. I have been reading the McMurray catalog and drooling…I hope to add some chickens to my little half acre. As I read your post, I realize I have no idea all of the things that would be involved…much more research to do!

  11. Jean Ann: I took a look at your blog. Sounds like a cool adventure! If my working through this first chickens stuff sounds a little complicated, it’s cause I’m getting a fair (although still very small) number, 75 birds in all, it’ll be a few hundred bucks outlay by the end, and even if they’re for our own use, I want a reasonably reliable result for my first time. So I’m getting 2-week old chicks for meat, and grown “ready-to-lay” birds for eggs, to kinda hopefully make things simpler this time around (I’m gonna be swamped with market garden stuff at the same time). I’ve found research is indispensable, the more the better, BUT I wouldn’t let it eclipse TRYING! ;) Everything is so much clearer with a little first hand experience. I found seems to have solid, pretty much one-stop stripped down chicken info for a quick start…

  12. I also agree with keeping them separate. We had a cannibal problem raising several varieties together. Our worst problem was legs, too much growth, too quickly for the legs to support. Their bones just do not match the rapid weight gain.

  13. Interesting about the black sexlink. I found the same thing, way to aggressive for anything I wish to raise. Cannibalism and I don’t get it with other breeds. I assume where they are bread for their laying characteristics or some other quality or something, they are just more aggressive than other breeds. It makes me wonder about the other crosses that are bred for eggs.

    I have only raised Cornish/rock broilers a few times but I found that the legs go out from under them also. This also happens with bronze turkeys(I don’t know about other turkeys), and an old farmer told me to get some calf mana at the feed store. This milk supplement for calves is high in calcium and in most cases prevents the birds getting heavier than their legs will withstand.

  14. Wow. I just got my Murray McMurray catalog, and I am pretty overwhelmed. We are planning on adding 4 chickens to our MicroFarm (.5 ac). I will definitely be checking back with the abundance of information here. Thanks! :)

  15. I’ve eaten at quite a few good Indian places, and this is not one of them. We ordered butter chicken and a basic shrimp curry. Both of them were extremely sour and the sauce felt heavy. Although the curries looked normal, the sauce base was more chunky than creamy. The naan tasted a bit burnt, but the mango lassie was superb

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