Ever wondered, why are Cornish hens so small? Or, what’s the difference between Cornish hens and chickens?
Cornish hens are simply so small because the breed of chicken was created by crossing small game birds with other breeds.
They’re small, so they’re pretty cute, and despite being so small they are raised as meat birds not kept as egg-laying birds due to their succulent meat.
What Are Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens, much like most if not all breeds of chicken, were created by crossing two breeds of chicken.
Poultry farmers have been crossing chicken breeds for hundreds of years to create chickens with the characteristics they want.
In the case of the Cornish, according to Wikipedia two people by the names of Alphonsine "Therese" and Jacques Makowsky are credited with creating the first Cornish hens in the 1950s.
They crossed Cornish game cocks with other breeds to create the Cornish, also known as the Cornish Game Hen.
It doesn’t seem to be known exactly which breeds, but the Malayan fighting cock and White Plymouth Rock are named as two.
It’s believed they were trying to create a good male fighting chicken but ended up with a succulent bird that became popular on fine dining menus!
Related - Here's why Cornish hens are so expensive compared to chicken.
Why Are Cornish Hens So Small?
When a Cornish hen is served up, or even if they’re seen in person, the first thing people notice is how small they are.
Cornish hens are typically around 1 to 1.5 lbs when they’re slaughtered.
They’re often mistaken for baby chicks, which they definitely are not. They are typically processed for eating at around 5-6 weeks old, but that’s normal for broiler hens.
They are often called bantams, too, but this is also incorrect. Bantams are miniature versions of regular chickens, not specific breeds like the Cornish are.
The reason why Cornish hens are so small is because of their breed, it’s as simple as that.
Every breed of chicken is a different size, shape, and color. Because Cornish chickens were bred from small game birds, the Cornish is a small breed.
Related - How long do broilers take to grow?
What Is the Difference Between a Cornish Hen and Chicken?
There is no difference between Cornish hens and chickens in the true sense of the word ‘chicken’.
To make this a bit clearer, let me explain some poultry terminology to you that people often get confused about.
A chicken is a domesticated bird that I’m sure we’re all familiar with. Male chickens are called roosters when fully grown, and female chickens are called hens.
There are then hundreds of different breeds of chickens, just like there are hundreds of different breeds of dogs.
Confusingly, Cornish ‘hens’ are both female and male chickens.
But most importantly, they are just a specific breed of chicken and a different breed from what we typically see on the supermarket shelves.
The ‘chicken’ that is commonly sold in supermarkets comes from a type of chicken called a ‘broiler’.
To further complicate matters, broilers are not a breed of chicken. It’s a term given to any chicken that is produced purely for consumption.
There are some breeds that are commonly used for broilers. A couple of which are the Hubbard chicken and interestingly the Cornish when crossed with other breeds that are good for meat production.
Is a Cornish Hen Just a Small Chicken?
Yes, a Cornish hen is just a small breed of chicken.
It’s the fact that its meat is tender, and the whole chicken is the perfect size for one person that has made the Cornish hen so popular at the dinner table.
Cornish hens also have less fat content and fewer calories than regular chicken, so it’s often marketed as a healthier option - which it is.
Plus, a lot of people prefer to see a whole chicken on their plate. It gives you the option to eat the parts you prefer.
They’re not popular as backyard birds. In fact, I’ve never heard of anyone raising Cornish hens as pets or keeping them on their homestead.
This is probably because most game birds are not the most friendly.
Take the Old English Game bird as an example, I have a friend who has a couple of these and they are aggressive little birds!
Cornish hens are not great egg layers either, the best estimate I could find is that they lay around 100-120 small eggs per year.
Related - A look at the history of the Cornish hen.
Cornish hens are so small because they are a small breed of chicken developed by crossing small game birds with other breeds.
They’re more popular as meals than they are backyard pets, but there is no question that the meat of a Cornish hen is succulent, tender, and delicious.