The Big Issue : Edition 560
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 20 APR–3 MAY 2018 13 PHOTOSBYJAMESBRAUND DID YOU KNOW Buff Orpington chickens need human intervention to mate? I know, I know, more banging on about chickens, not everyone is into chickens, and, indubitably, no-one reading this could pick a Buff Orpington from a police line-up of feather dusters and a young Nicole Kidman. But bear with me. This is a greater tale of human frailty and idiocy. There are, give or take, 400 breeds of chicken. A Buff Orp, or “Borp” as I’ve decided to go with for brevity, is essentially a large English ginger chook that is treasured for its curvy shape and massively fluffy butt. They are popular on the show circuit, ditto as backyard ladies and, not coincidentally, on Instagram’s #FluffyButtFriday, when proud chicken owners publish adorable upskirt photos of their poultry. Borps have a sweet temperament, are named after the town of Orpington in Kent, and were initially bred black back in the late 1880s to hide the soot and dirt of London. The Borps’, er, problems in the bedroom stem from their aforementioned prized fluffy butts. Essentially, unless a human clears feathers from around their vents, creating a bare area, the rooster and hen can’t achieve a good “seal” and the special gravy often doesn’t get transferred. (Apologies, there, for ruining the word gravy.) I learned this at a Rare Poultry show, watching an enthusiastic breeder display his giant Borp rooster’s behind and explain that he was going to pluck that afternoon so his award-winning cockerel and hen could get down to business. I was struck right then that if we’ve created an animal that can’t procreate without our help, we’re probably doing it wrong. The list of chooks we’ve broken is long. Meat chickens, or “broilers”, can’t mate naturally. If they ever reach maturity (they’re bred to be slaughtered at six weeks), the rooster’s chest is so massive he can’t mount his lady friend at the right angle to make contact. This is if he can walk, which he often can’t, due to the weight of his body. » Fiona Scott-Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer, comedian and ruffler of feathers. FIONA Getting Laid “If we’ve created an animal that can’t procreate without our help, we’re probably doing it wrong.” Many breeds have the instinct to hatch eggs bred entirely out, so their eggs must be incubated. Other breeds, such as Rosecombs, have fertility issues attached to the particular genetic mutation that causes a desired aesthetic variation. Such as a comb shaped like a rose. Humans then have to fuss around with temperature, water beds and Barry White on the stereo to help them procreate. Humans, apparently, have nothing better to do than create busy work for ourselves by screwing with other animals’ genetics. Dog owners are nodding furiously at this point and saying, “What about the dogs?”, to which I reply “Good point, Brian, I was just about to go there.” We pick an abstract shape for a dog breed, then go for it until their eyes are too big for their skulls (Chihuahuas), their faces too flat for them to breathe (pugs), or they’re crippled with hip dysplasia due to their sloped backs (German shepherds). Wherever we meddle, trouble and dependence follow. Belgian Blue cows can, literally, only give birth through caesarian section, because their pure-bred calves are so huge. What ARE we doing? We’ve made ourselves indispensable to the continued existence of most domesticated animals by screwing them up royally and then providing mechanical solutions to the problems we caused. Humans. Total arseholes. You’ll notice we never breed selectively for, say, intelligence. Don’t want smart chickens. Nope nope nope. And now there’s a gene splicing technique, CRISPR, pronounced “crisper”, which uses protein Cas9 to cleanly excise a single gene from a chain of DNA. Which makes for brutally efficient, and permanent, tinkering. As in, when a trait is disappeared using CRISPR, it never returns. Oh great. Now we can screw things up forever. Humans. This is not a good idea.