From Michelle Obama's White House garden, to backyard chicken coops across America, it seems everyone is trying their hand at homesteading. Whether you're doing it to save money, improve the environment, or just have tastier eggs, here are a few things to research before taking the plunge into chicken farming.

Zoning

First thing's first. You need to make sure your city ordinances will allow your chickens and how many. Before you city dwellers get discouraged, you may be surprised at what some places will allow. Some cities, such as Portland, OR, will allow up to four chickens in the backyard, as long as there are no roosters. If you live in a gated community, though, odds are you'll have to live without. Where I live I can have chickens...and sheep...as long as the sheep don't sleep in your home. I am not making this up, that is an actual ordinance. Fortunately, I don't own a sheep so the temptation to cuddle up to Fluffy on a cold winter night isn't even there. Thank goodness.

Shelter

Next to feed, shelter is the most expensive thing you'll need. Don't make the same mistake we did and think of the shelter after you've picked up your cute baby chicks. Wow. That was dumb. I ordered 24 Rhode Island Red day-old chicks from an excellent chick hatchery, picked them up from the post office, opened the box in my living room and thought, “Now what?” True story. The chicks stayed in our living room, then moved to a home in our basement, then the garage, and finally out in the yard where they belonged. Don't ask me why this happened. I claim pregnancy insanity. Also, my husband and I are former city folk and had no idea about the smell. Don't know what I'm talking about? If you get chickens, you will. And honestly, “the smell” deserves its own category in this situation.

Who will help me clean my cage? (AKA, The Smell)

It is bad. Really bad. When I was cleaning the cage I decided the person who pushed the plague cart down the road calling for the dead didn't have that difficult of a job. At least he was paid. I kept saying to myself, “All this for eggs?...REALLY?” Let me reiterate, I am not a wuss. I don't get grossed out easily. I'm as hardcore as they come. But apparently, chicken poop just does me in. Make sure you have a designated cage cleaner before the chicks arrive. Children come to mind when I think of this chore.

Vet bills...?

I question marked this one because it's almost a joke. I know some will not approve of this comment, but if your chicken gets sick, prepare the ax. I read an article where someone actually took her chicken to the vet, but then again the picture of her had the chicken in her lap, and it only took me once to learn what a bad idea that was. Alright, twice. Chickens poop a lot. So, if you're thinking of this creature who makes delicious eggs as a pet, I guess the vet is your deal. We had a couple of them that we had to “cull,” (a truly fantastic word,) and my husband got the opportunity to play farmer. Which leads me to the next topic...

Eggs or Meat?

Good layers are lean, so they don't make good meat birds. And good meat birds aren't the best layers. It all boils down to what they're expending their energy on. Are they getting fat and delicious, or making yummy eggs? I recommend a dual purpose to begin. They aren't bad for meat and good layers. The aforementioned Rhode Island Reds are a dual purpose bird. But they're a bit mean.

Read Everything!

Check out blogs of homesteaders. Get Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, and read every page. That book was my lifesaver. It helped me in every step of the process. The only thing I don't think it went into with enough detail was the smell. But I covered that part, so you'll be good to go. They smell really bad.

Having a backyard homestead is really hard work, and phenomenally rewarding. I no longer have my 24 Rhode Island Reds. If you're wondering what happened to them, I sold some, some got sick and culled, a couple just woke up and died one morning, and then there were three. They would follow me all around the yard. A few times they got out and crossed the road in front of my home. But they came back when I called. The most wonderful thing was going out and seeing eggs every morning. It was such a treat.

There was nothing in my city life upbringing that prepared me for the amount of joy I got from getting those eggs. Well one morning, a raccoon got one, and then another, because I forgot to lock their cage. So the last one is in the country, retired on a nice chicken farm with a real coop and lots of friends. I'm definitely getting chickens again in the future. I'll just make sure the coop is downwind from the house.

This article was included in The Homesteading Carnival and All Things Eco Blog Carnival!