Maybe you saw the pictures on Facebook - we just added 4 new pullets to our backyard flock (which had tragically dwindled to 1 solo hen). I know some of you are tempted by the idea of getting your own chickens, and Spring is a PERFECT time to do so. Here's a breakdown on the cost and time commitment from our (very limited) experience keeping chickens.
BIRDS - We purchased the original pair of hens (Hester and Charlotte) for $15 each through a fellow bird-lover on Craigslist. Alternatively you can buy day-old chicks for $1 apiece. They won't reach laying age until 4-6 months, but you will probably develop a close bond with your girls as you watch them grow up. Buying chicks intimidated me as it's a pretty high maintenance process to get them to the independent/outside stage (2 months old) Since buying the original girls, we've gotten all our new birds for free from various sources.
PINE SHAVINGS - Our coop floor is covered in a thick layer of pine shavings. We use the Deep Litter Method which keeps the coop warmer in the winter, requires less maintenance (see the time commitment section below) and provides us with awesome compost for our garden beds. A big bag of pine shavings costs about $8 and we only use a couple a year.
Obviously the eggs are an immediate benefit of having laying hens. With 3 laying hens I was getting 2-3 eggs a day. We share the overage with friends and family and have incorporated a lot more egg-eating into our routine. Once the new arrivals start laying, I may offer up eggs for sale in the 'hood during the spring and summer when the girls are in over-drive.
Using the Deep Pile Method provides us with really nice compost for our garden. Instead of throwing kitchen scraps straight into a compost bin, giving them to the chickens basically speeds up the process a zillion times. What comes out of the chicken is pure gold for growing veggies. Even though my thumb is no where near green, I've worked the compost into the front bed for three years now and the soil there is much nicer compared to our other non-compost receiving beds.
I love that our kids connect eggs to animals and not just an aisle at the grocery store. Even though we don't have any plans to eat our pet chickens (at least not yet) Sweet B says "bok bok" when we serve chicken for dinner. It's probably going to scar her in some way.
I think watching the hens is pretty entertaining. They are like any social animal in that they all have different personalities and watching them interact is enjoyable. Our newest pullets have been handled a lot more than Hester and will come right up to us and let us carry them around. We all really enjoy watching them do their chicken-thang.