A Nun with Chickens??!!
By Sister Michelle S.
When 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:
- to feel connected to nature, grounded in the physical world
- for the creativity I experience designing and building the coop
- because chickens can eat all my kitchen garbage and then fertilize my garden organically
- because I don’t want antibiotics or hormones or inhumane treatment of chickens to happen on my account
- for the fun of learning from and working with my friend Greg on building the coop
- for the frugality of trying to build it with as much recycled and found materials as I could
- 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!
- to enjoy collecting a small basket of different colored eggs
- 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
- 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.
- to watch the chicks develop from 3 days to full grown!
- to learn about all the breeds and their different histories and talents
- because I’m amazed that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in their water prevents disease just as well as antibiotic feed!
- because chickens can be trained and become affectionate if interacted with enough
- 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/
- 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.)