Remember my ugly hen? Well, it seems she’s got a back story to her. The upshot? Her name’s not Chicken Little...it’s Elsita. 

Since I know some of you enjoy following the story of my goats (who are hoofing it up in their efforts at biological deforestation of my previously jungly back yard), I figure you might like to get occasional notes on the progress of my back yard flock and soon-to-be-eggery. To that end, here’s my self-indulgent update:

Since this messy chicken parked herself in front of me about a month ago, we’ve been through a series of ups and downs. 

Up: Domesticity. The hen herself, adapting perfectly to her home on my [formerly] lush acre in Miami. Pecking at goat poo and roosting by my side at night, she was the picture of domesticated hen-dom. 

Down: Sickliness. Her own stool was crowded with coccidia, I spied the occasional louse between her feathers, and her upper respiratory signs never slackened. 

Up: Origins? Our neighbor a few doors up in the back alley where I found her read Dolittler and discovered he knew this chicken. While her origins remain unknown, “Elsita” would make occasional daybreak visits to his bakery for a Cuban bread or guava pastry handout. I learned that he’d named her after an exceedingly unattractive woman named Elsa, and that my ugly Elsita once had a prettier sister who’d been run down in nearby traffic.

Down: More illness. After some admittedly feeble attempts to rehabilitate Elsita with an extrapolation of my canine and feline protocols and some online advice, I finally realized I'd be needing some professional help. Though she’d undoubtedly improved with a course of Baytril, Tylan and ivermectin it proved an undoubtedly lackluster attempt once her symptoms returned with greater severity a week later. 

Snick. Sneeze. Harumph. Hack. Plop. And more nasties...

It’s embarrassing, this admission of reckless medicine applied to a chicken in ways I’d never attempt for my other pets. After all, how many times do I preach in favor of second opinions and leaving veterinary medicine to experts? Elsita’s condition was far beyond my skills and, in retrospect, this should have been clear from the start.

At Avian and Exotics Animal Medical Center in Pinecrest, Florida, Dr. Don Harris had this to say: "Patty, just stick to dogs and cats. Please."

One physical exam, one culture, one fecal, two cytologies and lots of bloodwork later, it was clear Elsita was suffering a severe bacterial infection with a possibly viral etiology underlying it. Nasty stuff. Now she’s on piperacillin and cipro twice a day and lots of TLC where I can give it.

Though a few days later she’s back on the mend, our relationship is not. Somehow she resents the twice daily medications in such a way that I might actually be forced to hospitalize her so she can get her meds in a timely fashion. No, this time I won’t be making the same mistake. If she needs to sit in a cage so she can surrender to my care then so be it. 

After all, underlining the need to treat Elsita well––and quickly––is the fact that I’d placed an order for chicks. Upon discovery of the sweet mysteries of poultry-keeping, I’d given in to the allure of my own backyard flock.

Yes, five Dominique females and one little boy will arrive the week of April 13th––this, according to My Pet Chicken, a website that caters to backyard chicken fanciers needing to place small orders of birds for humane, overnight delivery. 

Sure, you can call me crazy (my family does) but, as I said in my first chicken post, there will be no dearth of outstretched hands when the eggs come rolling in. Yes, as long as I can cater to the chicken-ill that afflicts my Elsita, there will be six more sweeties to join her ranks in the bird vet’s files. And I will be keeping you posted.