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Monday, August 21, 2023

Can Pheasants And Chickens Breed?

 Original Article

You might know already that there are a great many breeds of domestic chicken out there. Pretty much all of these birds are descended from the ancient jungle fowl native to Asia.

pheasant and chicken collage

But did you also know that our chickens are also close cousins with pheasants? It’s true. In fact, they are close enough that it might make you wonder if crossbreeding them is possible.

Hybrids do happen in nature, you know! So, can pheasants and chickens breed? 

Yes, pheasants and chickens can successfully breed. However, their hybrid offspring are rarely viable, and the ones that do survive to adulthood are sterile and have short lifespans.

Well, this is technically possible, but practically a bad, bad idea. Chickens and pheasants can cohabitate under certain circumstances, and in that case mating attempts will probably happen.

In any case, you don’t want to try and breed them yourself for a whole host of reasons. We will talk about those reasons below.

How Can Chickens and Pheasants Breed?

Chickens and pheasants can, in fact, mate with what can charitably be called success. Meaning that a male pheasant can fertilize a female chicken’s eggs and vice versa.

This can occur because both birds belong to the same family, Phasianidae. This family also includes turkeys, grouse, quail, and partridges.

That being said, there is still considerable genetic diversity in the family and not all pairings among members of the said family will produce offspring at all.

However, the fact that our two birds can mate does not mean that they will produce healthy offspring, either. That being said, it is technically achievable.

What are Chicken-Pheasant Hybrids Called?

Hybrids of a pairing between chicken and pheasant are called… a chicken, or a pheasant. They look more like pheasants, generally. Anticlimactic, I know.

But as you will soon learn there are not enough successful pairings and not a big enough population of said birds to even justify a new cognomen for them.

If you insist, you could call them chickantsPheasensPhickens? Whichever one you like the best!

Should You Try to Crossbreed Pheasants and Chickens?

You already know chickens are the most popular and plentiful poultry kept for domestic farming the world over. But did you know there are an increasing number of pheasant farms? It’s true.

This, naturally, will lead some bird-loving farmers and homesteaders to try and keep both species and then, in time, the question will arise: should you try to crossbreed pheasant and chicken?

The short, succinct answer is: No. No, and for a whole lot of good reasons which we will detail momentarily.

This is one pairing that almost invariably ends in disaster.

Pheasant breeding chickens

Crossbred Hens will Lay Eggs, but their Viability is Extremely Low

There is any number of reasons for this…

First and foremost, the two species have different numbers of chromosomes. Chickens have 78 while pheasants have 80.

This difference in chromosomal makeup will usually doom any fertilized eggs to be unviable in any case. Oh, sure, the fertilized female will lay plenty of eggs as usual, no problem, but they won’t develop.

Only a tiny, tiny fraction of any such eggs will progress through development, and even then they will be beset by problems and death at every step of the way.

We are talking only single-digit percentages, here: between 3% and 4% will develop all the way to the hatching phase.

Hybrid Chicks that Make it to the Hatching Stage Struggle to Survive

So, assuming you have one of the precious few hybrid eggs that develop all the way to the hatching stage, you should be good, right? Ready to greet the new and unique chick any time. Unfortunately, no.

Of those scarce and precious few eggs that do develop to the hatching phase (that 3% to 4%, remember?), another single-digit percentage of those will be able to make it all the way to pipping, about 6%. This is an incredible attrition rate, to the point of near-insignificance.

But the horror does not stop there, because of the chicks that manage to, somehow, survive and develop to pipping only half of them will escape their shells and live.

The Numbers

If you have been following along with all of the above, you might still be a little fuzzy on the math. Let me write it out for you in an easy-to-digest format.

Let’s say, let’s just say, that you were able to get enough pheasants to intermingle with enough chickens to produce 1,000 fertilized eggs.

So you have your 1,000 eggs. Of those eggs, only 3% to 4% develop to the hatching phase. Let’s give them a boost and say 4% make it. That’s 40 live eggs in the hatching phase. Ouch.

Of those 40, now only 6% will mature all the way to the big day, pipping their shells. The rest die. That’s 2.4, round it up to help them and say 3. Just 3 of these hybrids pip.

And now, of those 3 chicks, on half of them will make it. 1 1/2 chicks, so just say 2 since we are being kind.

Out of 1,000 eggs you get two live birds. A 0.2% success rate. Horrendous, by any standard. But this little exercise is not theoretical.

It has been done before at an even larger scale all the way back in 1954 in a study by William E. Shaklee and C.W. Knox, as cited in the Journal of Heredity, volume 45, issue 4.

3 week old Pheasant x Chicken hybrid

Hybrid Chicks that Live to Adulthood are Sterile, and Plagued with Health Issues

Now, let us turn out attention to our two poor surviving specimens. These hybrids will be sterile and unable to reproduce.

They don’t even attempt to mate with other birds. This is fairly common in hybrids of different species, although there are some notable exceptions.

As well as being sterile, these two chicks will be saddled with a range of health problems that will limit their lifespan, quality of life, and usefulness to you.

Some of the more common problems include increased susceptibility to respiratory issues, heart defects, digestive tract blockages and deformities, and more. These are not healthy birds by any stretch of the imagination.

Hybrid Adults Have No Special Traits

But, surely, after all this there must be something extraordinary about chicken-pheasant hybrids, yes? Sadly, no again.

The adults look more like pheasants than chickens, and in size are often between the two birds.

They lack the typical head and facial features of both their parent species, looking instead like a rather confusing and unremarkable mix of the two.

Not only are chicken-pheasant hybrids incredibly difficult to produce, but even if you succeed the birds will be largely useless to you and may not even survive to adulthood.

Whatever your intentions for live hybrids, they offer nothing to you, and nothing whatsoever to any prospective customer except pure and, I would say, almost malign novelty.

You Can Eat Crossbred Eggs, but They Don’t Taste Different

Now, maybe you are the type of farmer that does not care for the live birds, and you don’t mind this low success rate since you just want the eggs. Maybe the eggs have some special quality to them…

Wrong again. Your eggs, quail or chicken, will taste just like they always have. There is no difference in taste just because a different species fertilized it.

Pheasant breeding Chicken

Generally, Attempting to Crossbreed Pheasants and Chickens is a Waste of Time

As you can see by now surely, the success rate for producing chicken-pheasant hybrids is incredibly low, and the birds that are produced are often sterile and plagued with health problems…

Therefore, it is practically and ethically wrong to attempt such breeding.

No matter who you are, where you live, or what your plans are, trying to cross-breed chickens with pheasants is a waste of time.

Such a pairing will invariably fail, and the nigh-on miraculous bird that survives to adulthood will suffer a short and unhappy life.

The eggs laid from the efforts have no special quality, and there is no way to make such endeavors profitable.

At best, it is an interesting scientific footnote. At worst and in reality, it is a genetic and commercial dead-end.

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