It's 2023. Eggs are $5+ per dozen so the allure of raising your own chickens is high. But should you? Literally every chicken group I see on social media has someone wanting pullets, or chicks, or hatching eggs and ask how you can hatch more pullets (hint....that's not a thing). Everyone should have the opportunity to love their own flock of chickens. BUT if you choose to get chickens and have never had them before, there are some things you really need to consider.
If you want to hatch your own, you should consider a quality incubator, especially if you plan to hatch more than once. Styrofoam incubators vary greatly in quality but don't last because you cannot really completely sanitize them. Plastic is better and we highly recommend the Borotto line of incubators. If you plan on hatching shipped eggs, we have some tips here.
So, you go to the feed store and buy chicks or hatch your first batch of chicks. Chicks need to be kept warm until they are fully feathered. That means an investment of a brooder with a heat plate or heat lamp. A brooder can be homemade or purchased but must be able to house the chicks without a draft, but have good ventilation. It takes 5/6 weeks before chicks are fully feathered.
Now, unless you have purchased pullet (young hen) chicks, you will have some little roosters in there. Even buying pullets doesn't guarantee there can't be a stray little guy in the mix. Make a plan ahead of time for what you plan to do with all the roosters. Don't think you will be able to find them all homes. You won't. You are going to have to make some hard choices, so keep this in mind before you decide to hatch your own or buy straight run (mixed sex) chicks.
Depending on what breed you decide on, pullets generally don't start to lay until 5 or 6 months of age. That's 5 or 6 months of feed, bedding, and whatever else they may need in that time, all before you see single egg.
Chickens need a predator proof coop and run. Be sure to learn the predators in your area. Racoon, fox, coyote, possum, snake, weasel, mink, hawks, and eagles are only a few. Chicken wire will not keep a determined predator out so be sure to use hardware cloth in your runs.
Want to free range your flock? Great! Watch for predators. They are sneaky SOBs. Chickens poop. A LOT. EVERYWHERE. Watch the back steps before you walk out the door. Keep an eye on your flower beds and gardens because scratching around in dirt is a favorite hobby for the chickens.
Chickens can get sick. If you choose to treat your chickens, please PLEASE, don't ask your favorite chicken group on social media and for the love of all that is holy, don't trust Dr Google. You are going to get 20 different answers and they are probably all wrong. If you know a seasoned breeder, you could reach out to them for advice but a vet is even better. If your vet cannot help you, find an avian vet in your area. If you choose not to use a vet and your chicken does not get better, it is more humane to euthanize than to make them suffer, hoping they will just get over it. Just be prepared for the possibility of vet bills and/or euthanization.
Once a year, chickens molt. They lose feathers, their combs and wattles become pale, they may lose some weight, and they stop laying. Molting time varies on breed, nutrition, and environment but could take a couple of months before they come out of it.
Most breeds of chicken take a time out from laying during the winter. You can get around this by providing light. Keep in mind that hens have a predetermined number of eggs. If you keep her laying during the winter, then the number of years she does lay is less. If she has a break, she will lay longer.
Do you live inside city limits? Be sure to check your city's ordinances to see is chickens are allowed. Preferably before you bring that batch of chicks home.
These are only a few, but important, things to consider before you decide to cross the road to the chicken side. If you think you are going to get cheap eggs, you probably aren't. They are a lot of work and can be expensive. BUT, having your own flock can be a joy. You will know where your food comes from if you are raising chickens for eggs or meat. Having your favorite hen come running to you when she sees you will make you realize you forgot her treats in the house. But it will also give you the warm fuzzies. You will have to make the decision if it is worth it for yourself. Just be sure to understand what you are getting into before you bring that box of chicks home.