For some, it's a natural progression from raising their own fruits and vegetables. It's a chance to raise kindly treated animals and gain a better understanding of where their food comes from.
For others, keeping chickens is great way to relive their childhood when they lived on a farm or visited relatives on a farm.
Whatever your reason for keeping chickens, you're not alone. More and more cities are allowing chickens within their city limits and a growing wave of people are taking on raising chickens and enjoying both experience and the benefits.
Where to Start?
There are several ways you can start keeping chickens of your own. A popular way is by raising chicks. You can get chicks at local feed stores, or through mail order (If you're wanting them for laying hens, pay extra and get the 'sexed' chicks--you still might accidentally end up with an occasional rooster, but your chances go down to about 10% instead of at least 50% for the unsexed birds). Most chicks are just a day or two old, cute and irresistible. You'll have to set up a brooder, and keep careful watch over them for the first 6-8 weeks of their lives.
Although it's fun to start with chicks, you might not like the idea of taking care of new chicks or of waiting for 6 months to get your first eggs. If that's the case, buying pullets might be a good way for you to go. Pullets are older, but not totally full-grown yet. They're closer to egg-laying age, so you won't have to wait long to start getting a 'return' on your chicken investment. And they're cheaper than buying full grown hens, which is, of course another option. (Buying full grown chickens puts you at a slight disadvantage because you haven't had the chance to socialize and tame your birds from babyhood, and you potentially miss out on some of their prime egg laying time.)
If you really want to start from scratch, you might want to consider hatching your own eggs. You can buy or make an incubator along with some fertilized eggs, and in 21 days you'll have your own brand new chicks. It might be a good idea to start with already hatched birds before you go the incubator route, but it is an option.
Before the Chickens
What came first, the chicken or the egg? A better question might be, what comes first, the chicken or the coop? Hopefully, you'll answer THE COOP! Before you bring chickens home to live with you, make sure you have an adequate place for them to live.
But even before the coop, don't forget to check with your city to see what the rules are for having livestock within city limits. Also check with your HOA, if you're in one. It wouldn't hurt to talk to your neighbors about it either. Bribe them with fresh eggs if they're reluctant to cheer you on. Even if you don't have a rooster, chickens like to make noise, especially to announce they've just laid an egg!
My neighbors love my chickens and I've never had a problem, but just to be on the safe side, it wouldn't hurt to tell the neighbors closest to you what your plans are so nobody gets any surprises.
Chickens don't need fancy digs, although consider your neighborhood before you build or buy, if the coop will be visible from the sidewalk. Everyone around you will be much happier if the coop looks like it fits into the neighborhood and doesn't stick out like an eye sore.
The coop, by far, will be the biggest expense in keeping chickens. But it also gives you lots of room to be creative. For more information on what to include in your coop, check out the chicken coop page to get started. If you're thinking of building your own coop, here's some free plans. And here's the diy chicken coop I built, mostly reclaimed and recycled parts. These resources should help get your juices flowing, as well as all that you need to include in your new chicken coop.
After the Chickens Move in
Once the coop is set up and your chickens are old enough to live out in the coop, life for you as a chicken farmer just got easier. Keeping chickens is generally pretty easy. It won't take up much time as long as your flock stays healthy.
Basically, if you make sure your chickens have clean, cool water in the summer, and unfrozen, clean water in the winter and a good grade of chicken food, you're almost set. Just add a small container of both grit and calcium to the coop or run, and your chickens will have most of their needs met. You can also give them leftover food scraps and fruits and vegetables. Although a chicken can eat almost anything, there are some foods that chickens should not eat.
If you live in a place where you can allow your chickens some daily 'recess' time, that's also an added bonus. Chickens love to gobble up bugs, worms, grass and weeds. They also love vegetables and flowers, so be careful letting your chickens loose in areas you want to protect! Here's some suggestions for ways to allow your gardens and chickens to co-habitat.
Now comes the fun part. Enjoy yourself. Chickens are entertaining and will provide you with many reasons to smile. But beware: They're addicting! I can't imagine my life without chickens! And most backyard chicken owners say the same thing. (If you need more convincing, however, check out WHY CHICKENS? for a dozen great reasons!)
Here's more information about chickens you might like:
Information about Chicken Breeds
How to Keep Happy Chickens
Things that Chickens Need
The Cost of Raising Chickens
Chicken Problems to Watch Out For