I am no chicken guru, and I am learning a lot as I go, but I have recently had a lot of questions in regards to "backyard chickens." I figured it would be easiest to answer them all in one big post.
Here ya go!
Are they loud?
Not really. So far (our girls are only 15 weeks old) they have been really quiet. Chickens, unlike roosters, try to stay unannounced to predators so they only make small noises when they are "talking" to each other. Throughout the day they make little "bock" sounds, but you cant even hear it from a few feet away. I have been told though, that they make a loud squawk when they lay, which is only once a day.
How many eggs do you get?
Each chicken will likely lay 1 small egg every day in the first year. Each year the egg will get larger, but less constant. At about age 5 they start to lay about 2-5 a week.
Are they allowed in your neighborhood?
Check out your county regulation. In Snohoish, where we live, hens are allowed 2 to a home. However, your chicken flock should be at least 3 hens so that if something happens to one of the ladies, the other two have each other to keep company.
How expensive are they?
Chickens themselves are VERY cheap. Our hens cost about $2 each. The food and bedding is also very in-expensive, but the coop can cost a pretty penny. When we were looking we found coops anywhere from $200-$700.
What kinds of breeds do you recommend?
I am VERY new at backyard chickens, but I did a little research when I was investigating the idea of having hens. First decide what you want from your chickens. Companionship, hardiness, good egg laying or even just for looks are all reasons to house hens. We got three different breeds; Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock and a White Leghorn. They all have very different personalities.
How do you build a coop or where can I find one?
There are a lot of coops and builders on Criagslist or you could check out your local grange for ideas as well. We didn't find one that worked for our family so we found out what the requirements are for a safe coop and designed our own. Coops should be completely closed off to predators, their nesting area should be up off the ground to keep it free from moisture and insects and it needs to be large enough for your entire flock.
How hard are they to care for?
So far, they are very easy. We clean out their coop once a week and make sure they have food and water daily. If you are a traveler, chickens are perfect for you. If you get a large feeder, chickens can be left alone for days at a time. When they start laying, their eggs will need to be collected as often as possible to keep them from brooding. We spoil our chickens by letting them have free range of the yard during the day, and we make sure they are locked up and safe every night.
Do they fly?
Kinda...not really...but kinda. Our Leghorn has made it to the top of our fence, and could easily get away if she was brave enough. Ooccasionally when something startles them the girls will "fly" from one side of the yard to the other. If you notice that they are gaining height, clip one of their wings which is an easy and pain free task to keep them more grounded.
Do they ruin your yard or garden?
Our grass seems to be immune to the daily peckings. They do eat it, but it doesn't seem to be a problem. However, my girls are extremely fond of Hostas, Bush Bean Leaves and Blueberries. So I have to net off the plants that they bother to keep them from destroying my plant babies. BUT, did you know that chicken manure is the best fertilizer for yards and gardens? Well, it is. So they are actually doing a lot of good there.
Are you going to eat them?
Probably not. Dotty and Doris are both considered "meat" birds but we are pretty attached to our fouls. There are people who butcher and dinner-ize their birds after they stop laying eggs daily. I understand this, but I'm not sure I have the stomach for it. But, if an emergency arises, I could do it. I would just leave the "murder" task to Matty. :)
When do they start producing eggs?
Most chicken breeds start laying eggs at about 20-25 weeks of age. They grown FAST. We are very excited for our fresh eggs to start appearing!
I hope that helps! If there are any questions I left unanswered, there are tons of great websites out there for people hoping to add chickens to their yard. There is even a "Chicken Keeping for Dummies" book!