Due to its bulldoggish appearance, some fear that the Cornish was originally bred for the cruel sport of fighting. Thankfully, this is not the case. Although descended from fierce birds such as the Asil, the Malay, and the Old English Game Fowl, the Cornish was specifically produced for the tables of Cornwall during its earliest years, hence its squat, broad-breasted physique. During the 1840s, crossing local chickens with gamefowl was a common method of improving the vigor of the former in England.
From its humble beginnings as the Sunday supper of the Cornish mining folk, the Cornish soon spread across England. Subsequent crossbreeding to improve its table qualities involved Dorking, Orpington, and Light Sussex chickens.
By the 1880s, the Cornish was falling out of favor in Great Britain as a meat bird due to its yellow skin. About that time, however, it was introduced to North America, where it enjoyed a considerable degree of popularity.
The original Cornish was the handsome dark variety. Subsequent breeding produced the white-laced red for show and the white for fast-growing broiler production.
Ironically, the development of the growthy White Cornish dealt a severe blow to the breed as a whole, as it was this variety that eventually became the basis of the crossbred broiler industry, reducing the need and demand for pure Cornish chickens for meat. Today, there are relatively few Cornish chickens in the United States.
The Cornish can be divided into three distinct types these days, each with a slightly different genetic background:
- The commercial type, used for breeding crossbred broilers.
- The exhibition type, kept primarily for show.
- The traditional type, still raised as a home meat bird on some small farms and homesteads.
A commonly overlooked use of the Cornish hen is as a pet. These birds are surprisingly affectionate.
The Cornish hen is a delightful bird to have around due to her docility and friendliness. She is easy to tame and will amply reward any attention given to her. Cornish hens usually tend toward the bottom of the pecking order in mixed flocks.
The Cornish rooster is another story. He is rather aggressive and may not be suitable for families with small children.
Keep in mind that all Cornish chickens, male or female, are quite active and need plenty of space to move. This is not a breed that will be happy in confinement.
The Cornish does not do well during times of extreme heat or cold. Hot weather may prompt a heart attack, and the breed’s short, sparse feathering makes keeping warm a challenge in a cold wind. On the whole, however, the Cornish is better suited to cold than heat. Its tiny comb is almost impervious to frostbite. When provided with snug, draft-free housing, it should do well in all but the coldest temperatures.
Also keep in mind that Cornish chickens, due to their heftiness, are prone to reproductive difficulties and heart attacks. They generally have a short lifespan. Restricting their feed intake may help.
- Predator savvy.
- Good winter egg production.
- Large egg size.
- Firm eggshells.
- Large quantities of white meat.
- Excellent meat texture.
- Unsuitability for extreme climates.
- Hefty appetite.
- Slow maturity (especially compared to commercial broilers).
- Short lifespan.
- Inability to breed naturally unless kept on a lean diet.
- Low egg production overall.
- Poor success rate when brooding.