It wasn't long ago when we bought our first 6 hens while living in St. Louis. We were in a suburb called University City and they required us to pull a "chicken permit" and limited us to only 6 hens, no roosters allowed. They were all Rhode Island Red hens, which make a great dual purpose breed, but we decided when we bought our farm that it would be a better idea to try and create our own breed of chicken with something special about them.
Araucana chickens are native to Peru and lay beautiful blue eggs. Some people are put off and very apprehensive about giving them a taste, but the only difference is the color of the shell. True Araucana chickens are rumpless (have no tail feathers), and tufted (gorgeous feathers sticking out each side of their head).
Over the years breeders here in America have crossed them to be larger and as a result their lines aren't pure. They have rumps, and no tufts, but still lay blue eggs. We started out with 7 hens when we purchased our farm 11 months ago. Technically they were considered Americaunas, and once they started laying their eggs we brought in a very fertile rooster (who we named Earl Peterson) and since then we have incubated hundreds of eggs.
We bought several varieties of eggs from eBay to experiment with making a version of this bird that is much larger, and have come up with some great results. Winter will be here very soon, and we have shut down production of our chicks until the Spring. The above photo was taken today, and the chicks in it are only about a week old. One of the most exciting things about hatching chicks is watching them navigate their way through life, even at just a few hours old.
They can survive without food or water for 72 hours just based on the energy contained within the "yolk" of the egg (which at that point is in their stomach). Still, watching them take their first drink of water, or their first taste of food, is something really magical. In another month they will be fully feathered and we can incorporate them into our flock outside. Letting them out too early would surely result in death, so they get to stay in the comfort of the basement for a few more weeks, cozy under the heat lamp.
Hatching chickens in the winter is a good idea provided you have warmth for them. They need about 5 months until they start laying eggs so winter hatching means fresh eggs in the spring. Always make sure they are fully feathered before going into the coop, and we like to "harden" our birds over a week before just putting them out. To do this we put them outside during the day (inside a cage), and at night they come back inside (but with no heat lamp) This helps them adjust to the temperature change without throwing them into shock.
Raising birds is easy. I suggest everyone keep at least 2 hens for the fresh eggs. You can't buy eggs with this quality from any local market. If you are considering it, check out your local laws and look on Craigslist for free rabbit hutches. People give them away all the time and they make perfect coops for small flocks of chooks.