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A Nun with Chickens??!!

February 13, 2013

By Sister Michelle S.
Sr Michelle with chickensWhen I was young and dreaming about my future, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I imagined meeting someone to marry who also loved animals and kids and nature and we would run a small farm breeding horses and dogs and practicing as a vet. When I was 19 years old though, I experienced a call to make God the center of my life and to make service to suffering humanity my business by becoming a Religious Sister. After several years of discernment I entered. The communal life of sharing a home with other Sisters meant I lived willingly without pets of any kind for 22 years; but the absence of animals was a real sacrifice. In recent years I have been in circumstances which allowed me to have a rescued miniature poodle. He helps me in my therapy room. (My ministry now is as a clinical social worker doing counseling and couples therapy). Over the past half year, I’ve begun researching and planning to raise some hens in my backyard in the city of St. Louis. My coop is almost finished and my chicks are over two months old. They will start laying sometime in May! During my recent retreat I was asked why & how?

Why I’m doing it:

  1. to feel connected to nature, grounded in the physical world
  2. for the creativity I experience designing and building the coop
  3. because chickens can eat all my kitchen garbage and then fertilize my garden organically
  4. because I don’t want antibiotics or hormones or inhumane treatment of chickens to happen on my account
  5. for the fun of learning from and working with my friend Greg on building the coop
  6. for the frugality of trying to build it with as much recycled and found materials as I could
  7. for the fun of sharing my adventure with others.  Because I love eggs! If chickens get to eat grass and bugs, the eggs are even better and healthier!
  8. to enjoy collecting a small basket of different colored eggs
  9. for the fun of sharing eggs (one person does not need 4 hens worth of eggs!) Laying hen breeds like Rhode Island Reds can lay 300 large brown eggs a year. “Easter Eggers” can lay 250 colored eggs a year
  10. for the way they facilitate my meeting and interacting with neighbors in my low-income neighborhood. Two families are already considering building their own coop and raising hens! Three neighbors have lent a pair of hands when I  couldn’t handle the next step of my coop building without them.
  11. to watch the chicks develop from 3 days to full grown!
  12. to learn about all the breeds and their different histories and talents
  13. because I’m amazed that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in their water prevents disease just as well as antibiotic feed!
  14. because chickens can be trained and become affectionate if interacted with enough
  15. so I do not give all my energy to my primary ministry and become a workaholic

How to do it:

  •  Build or buy (see craigslist.com) a coop with plenty of ventilation.
  • The coop should have at least two square foot interior space and four square foot exterior cage space per full size hen for a “chicken tractor” – That’s a coop with attached cage which you move every day or two around the yard. (A stationery pen and coop must be bigger.)
  • Make it predator proof! Yes, we have plenty of predators in cities.
  • Provide a roost by installing a two inch diameter rod (or two by four on edge) with at least 10″ length per hen.
  • Place the roost rod at least one foot from any wall or ceiling or opening and, within that guideline, as high as possible.
  • Provide one nest box per 4 hens (a 4 or 5 gallon bucket is fine).
  • Give plenty of water and provide commercial laying feed for hens.
  • Buy starter/grower feed for chicks up to 5 months old.
  • A heat lamp is needed for chicks raised without a mom – until they are 5 weeks old in summer or 2 months old in winter.
  • Grown chickens don’t need heat. They do need shade and breeze in the summer.
  • Most feed stores sell chicks in the March or October. You can also buy ‘started pullets’ that are nearly ready to lay. Hens reduce their laying quite a bit after two years old. You can also order online here are two options: http://www.cacklehatchery.com or http://www.mypetchicken.com/

Legalities:

  • Every municipality has different regulations.
  • You could start here to find out yours: http://www.backyardchickens.com/atype/3/Laws
  • St. Louis, where I live, allows 4 animals per household, no roosters. (Hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs.)

More info:
BackyardChickens.com and the Meetup.com for your local backyard chicken group.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Sister Natalie Rossi permalink
    February 13, 2013 9:23 am

    What a wonderful gift to yourself and your neighbors, plus the hens.

  2. February 13, 2013 9:54 am

    Way to go…we have alot in common. Visit us in person or at our website http://www.mercyfarmvermont.org We currently have a Eco-Spiritual center/ farm raise chickens and goats and would love you to visit sometime. Nice to see creatures of God joining in community life!!

  3. February 14, 2013 9:41 pm

    I ENJOYED YOUR STORY SO MUCH !! I SOUNDED FROM YOUR HEART WITH EAGERNESS TO SHARE IF ONE WAS INTERESTED IN WORKING AS YOU DO. I
    I’m NOT INCLINED THAT WAY YET IT SPOKE TO MY HEART AS ONE WHO FOUND
    HER ‘SPOT’ IN COMMUNITY & ‘DID IT HER WAY ‘AT THE SAME TIME. THERE IS PEACE
    & APPRECIATION BETWEEN ALL OF YOU & WITH YOUR NEIGHBORS. THEY ALSO
    HAVE SOME NEW TOOLS & A WAY OF SELF SUPPORT. SR. MICHELLE, YOU
    SOUND LIKE A VERY APPROACHABLE, KINDLY WOMAN. YOU SPOKE TO MY
    HEART. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! THE LORD BLESS YOU & ALL THOSE WHOSE
    LIVES YOU TOUCH & YOU”LL NEVER KNOW HOW MANY THIS IS MOST LIKELY
    THE PART THE LORD LOVES MOST,YOU LEAVE HIM FREE TO DO HIS TOUCHING
    HIS WAY FOR THEIR GOOD !! MUCH LOVE, MANY BLESSINGS, Sr. m. AMELIE
    A SR. OF MERCY in ARKANSAS !!!

  4. Martha Milner, RSM permalink
    February 15, 2013 4:14 pm

    Michelle this is great! I’m engaged in vermiculite. I am aiming for one small bag of recyclable garbage per week. The red worms take care of al kitchen green and coffee grounds. Chickens may be next…but I have to design my space and search out local laws. Martha Milner

  5. Diane Elmi permalink
    February 15, 2013 6:21 pm

    My sister Janice is in charge of the chickens on a farm community in Stannardsville, VA. She loves the chickens snd cleans out their coops and gsathers eggs, sometimess one of them rides with her on her little electric cartmobile.
    Diane Elmi, Sister of Mercy Associate

  6. Kathleen Wade permalink
    February 16, 2013 11:46 am

    Wow, Michelle! You did it! Congratulations on following through with your vision. I look forward to future blogs where you can report on your progress. I’m struck with how Mercy’s Critical Concerns fit in with your project.

  7. Anna Ralston permalink
    February 18, 2013 4:46 pm

    thats great you are doing this. go green great. Anna

  8. Kathy Kitts permalink
    March 12, 2013 8:36 pm

    Dear Sister Michelle,
    I found your article on raising chickens very interesting. I came upon it while searching for Sister Maura, who taught us seniors watercolor technique and collage at the senior center. She’s retired from teaching but I wanted to visit her. I am a gardener and close to the land. When I visited Vermont for a month, I attended a workshop on raising chickens and we got to see the difference between a store bought egg yolk and a home raised egg yolk. I wish you the best in your endeavors. I’m glad you finally got to have a pet dog and now your chickens, which will become like family to you. May God bless you for all your years of service to His people.

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