Lately more and more people visit our bed and breakfast and get enthused about our chickens and the possibility of getting chickens themselves. I'm frequently asked what I think about adding chickens to a family.
Here is what I think-- chickens are great and the eggs from cage-free chickens are phenomenal. But chickens do require more work than your pet cat or dog. If you want to get chickens then consider the following: chickens need a predator-proof enclosure during both the day and nighttime hours. You might think you can leave them in your backyard while you go to work, but the neighbor's cat will be paying close attention.... They should be securely locked up from dusk until dawn. A raccoon, skunk, or owl can decimate your chicken population in just one incident. You should have draft-free but well-ventilated digs for your girls and make sure there is ample roosting space and nesting space for egg laying. Chickens also have a couple of dietary needs-- some calcium source like oyster shells, protein, and fresh greens/grass/bugs whenever possible.
One other consideration important in making the decision to get chickens is chicken health. Like any other pet chickens can (and, unfortunately, will) get sick. Most vets will not know how to treat your chickens when they get sick. Some of the first problems you will face (almost definitely) are issues like pasty vent or spraddle-leg. It would be handy and helpful if you have a chicken care manual before you have a chicken emergency.
Many chicken illnesses are relatively easy to identify and treat-- mites, lice, and worms among them. Some chicken problems such as egg binding, crop binding and respiratory illness are very difficult to treat successfully and it's good to read up a bit about what those problems entail. You need to have at least one family member who is willing to "get their hands" dirty when necessary.
With all of those cautions in mind, I have to say that living with chickens is a wonderfully fulfilling experience. Like any other animal they have their own personalities and likes and dislikes. Watching them scratch and peck out in my yard is soothing-- like watching fish swim in a reef. When you have a trying day at work coming home and watching the simple lives your chickens live can help you put things back in perspective. Storey's Guide to Raising Poultry: Breeds, Care, Health