Before I became a chicken keeper, I thought that chickens were stupid creatures. I probably also assumed that they were all the same. But as any keeper will tell you, that is far from true. There are many personality types in my little flock, ranging from the adorably friendly (Betsy) to the mildly sinister (ASBO Chicken). Doris is my greedy hen.
If I throw out treats, it's Doris who will rugby tackle the others out of her way so that she can grab the biggest prize. She has become adept at zooming off down the garden, dodging and weaving like a pro in an effort to shake off her pursuers. Chickens aren't stupid, but they do have a short attention span. Doris knows that if she runs for long enough, the others will get distracted by a worm or something shiny. Then she can scoff in peace.
So, today I treated the girls to some soft cherry tomatoes. Now, I like cherry tomatoes, but once they go mushy I lose interest. My ladies are not so fussy. As usual, the sound of the back door opening brought them running to the step. I held up three tomatoes for their perusal, and they got on their marks. Launching the tomatoes in to the garden begins the sprint, and with much comedy scrabbling they were off. Typically, Doris reached the squishy treat first and legged it unobserved in to the shrubbery. I watched the rest of the flock divide the other two tomatoes between them. Even Betsy darted forward to snaffle a seed.
I watched all of this with a smile on my face. There is something so utterly endearing about the way hens chatter and squabble over favourite snacks. It reminds me very much of toddlers negotiating biscuit rations. Anyway, after several minutes I glanced about to see what Doris was up to.
At a distance, I couldn't quite work out what was wrong with the picture before me. Then I twigged. Doris seemed to still have her tomato in her mouth. She's not generally the type to savour her food, so I strolled over to investigate. As I got closer, I noticed that her comb and face had taken on a distinctively purple hue. That got me moving.
I grabbed the asphyxiating hen under one arm, and levered open her beak. Doris had apparently decided that eating her tomato in pieces was too risky. Far too much chance of being mugged by a flock mate. So she decided to impersonate a boa constrictor and swallow the thing whole. Even as I attempted to pull the unravelled but still whole tomato from her throat, she attempted to swallow it. With a final tug, I wrenched it free. As I stared at the slimy tomato dangling between my fingers, she struggled in my arms and snapped her beak at it as it swung tantalisingly close to shrieking with indignation gob. Even near death couldn't curb her appetite.
I waited until Doris's face had returned to a healthy colour before putting her down. She circled my feet, still looking up expectantly at the straggly fruit. Much to her disgust, I threw it in the compost bin. She registered her displeasure by crapping messily by my foot and then stalking off.
That's the thanks I get for saving her life.