Our Cornish Cross (a.k.a. Meat Mutants) aren't faring much better than the batch we had 2 years ago. Remember them? Suicidal things.
I've been trying to figure it out. For a few weeks they lived in a greenhouse-style hoophouse, propped up and in a small pickup bedliner. They had pine shavings, medicated starter (ugh, but no getting around it), regular grower ration, and clean water. When they finally started getting too big for that, we moved them out of the bedliner, to the ground, inside the same shelter. Every few days Big Sister pulls out another carcass.
It's very discouraging to see at least 2 meals disappear from your yearly menu every time one of these things kicks the bucket.
We started at 52; if we counted correctly when we moved them to the floor, and we subtracted correctly each time one dies, we're at (or near) 39.
I've added cider vinegar to their water occasionally (not consistently enough to be able to tell if it helps), but that's rumored to reduce pecking, which isn't an issue with these things. Sometimes one or two will get a little energetic and spend 2.3 seconds sparring, but mostly they eat, drink and sleep.
I (or Hubby, more correctly) may have figured out the problem. It's hard to keep food and water in front of these beasts - they suck down 3 gallons in a day, and 25 lbs of food every 2 days or less - and if we're at all late with the refills, it gets kindof violent in there. They're bigger, too, so less of them can fit around each feeder/waterer at any one time. When they're fighting for a spot at the trough, they'll jump up on one another, and the underlings end up with scratches on their back/rears. This might be mild if their feathers grew as fast as their bodies, but most of them have bare patches in that area, and end up with nasty, bad gashes from the claws of their cohorts. Not pretty. I noticed it a few days ago. Hubby noticed it last night, and suggested their wounds might be what's killing them; infection and whatnot.
Sounds as plausible as anything else I can come up with.
But what to do? Dip them each in a bucket of rubbing alcohol? Apply neosporin? Use bandaids? Nail clippers? Fill my air-pressured weed sprayer (which I use for organic foliar fertilizer) with hydrogen peroxide and hose down the whole crew? None of these ideas seemed reasonable or doable, without a trip to the drugstore, anyway. Do they put you on an FBI list if you buy 3 gallons of isopropyl alcohol?
Last night one had a particularly bad cut. At least an inch long, and what you could see under the skin (which was entirely cut open) looked decidedly like 'chicken thigh' for your dinner, except it was still walking around. When Hubby made his refreshment run, I grabbed from the medicine cupboard what I thought might be antiseptic spray. I say, "thought" because we purchased it when Little Artist was still back in her super-destructive mode, and would peel every sticker, label, or packaging off of anything she could get her hands on. Which was most things, apparently. So this particular little bottle of spray (there were two of them, equally naked) had no identifying marks. It might've been anti-itch antihistamine spray. But I hope not. In any case, I took it outdoors and sent Big Sister into the Nasty House to obtain as many chickens as she could, and one by one we inspected and sprayed their hindquarters. Some had minor scratches, others had cuts that seemed to be healing. Some never got caught. We made sure to catch the 'freshly wounded' and douse them well. What would Benadryl spray do in an open wound, anyway? The chickens did settle down for a nap after we were done terrorizing them.. Hmm...
We plan to move them soon to another area; we have 6 turkeys and 3 geese on order, though we don't know when they'll arrive (nothing like being prepared. Or not.). We'll need the little hoophouse for them, and we're working on prepping an area of the garden for the Mutants. This has become additionally complicated by a pair of large hawks (red-tailed, I think) that have moved into a tall tree just across our eastern property line. The other day I heard a piercing squeal that continued, and when I looked toward the sound I saw a hawk heading from the north end of the field to it's tree to the east. The squeal was carried with it, and I think, I hope it was a rockchuck. A few days ago Big Sister was hanging out laundry and came in to excitedly tell me that the hawk had tried to get one of the guineas, but didn't. Up to that point it had left our chickens alone; I figured perhaps they were too large to be tempting, but the guineas are about the same size, so...
The Mutants are not too big to be tempting. In fact, their bright white-ness combined with their lethargy would likely spell "Hawk Feed Here" to any potential predator. Thus their 'outdoor' area is going to have to be severely rednecked, er, situated to discourage airborne attacks.
And I don't expect that will be pretty either.