I found the poll somewhat hard to answer as the answer would vary for everyone.
The easiest progression is to buy started pullets or young hens, try them out for a while. Then move to getting chicks from a hatchery or feed store. Once you have some experience you can decide on your favorite breed(s) and decide if you want to hatch them.
Hatching has many positives and a few negatives. Some negatives include; what to do with all the extra roosters? (And you can end up with A LOT of extra roosters VERY quickly.) What to do with deformed chicks that need culled? It's definitely NOT for the faint of heart. There can be a lot of heartache and worrying involved, for example, sometimes you can have all the eggs develop and none hatch, just to open the eggs and find all perfectly formed but dead embryos. Or you can have deformed chicks that just won't make it and have to be culled. It can be hard sometimes.
It's not expensive once you get the cost of the actual incubator out of the way.
Just like with any other hobby there is a learning curve. You must learn how your equipment works, how to keeep the temperature and humidity consistent, WHAT temperature and humidity to use, and how your turning mechanism is going to work.
I purchased a Brinsea Octagon 20 with the turner and have had nothing but good luck with it. It's about $100, plus $60 for the turner and shipping. It's easy to set the temp and it holds it well, meaning it DOESN'T fluctuate very often. Small fluctuations shouldn't hurt, but the more steady you can get it the better. Swings of more than 1 or 2 degrees can have a detrimental effect on the developing embryos. This particular incubator does NOT come with humidity control so I had to purchase a hygrometer (I use the $4 one from Petco) and calibrate it. I then use it to check my humidity a couple times a day; I usually have to add water to the bottom every couple days to maintain the correct humidity. There are two "wells" in the bottom of the incubator. Fill one for incubating and two for hatching. It gets you CLOSE to where you should be but not always, it depends on your ambient air humidity too. Maintaining humidity during hatching is usually a little harder as it has to stay higher and sometimes can be difficult to get it where you need it. Sometimes I add a wet washcloth to the bottom of the incubator to increase surface area to increase humidity to where I need it to be, but it depends on my air humidity that day. You just have to keep checking your hygrometer and adjust accordingly. I incubate at about 35% and hatch at about 60% humidity. BUT it can be different for every person, every incubator, and every location. The turner on the Brinsea is one of the best designs I've seen. Easy on the eggs and you don't have to open the incubator to adjust or turn them. I love my Brinsea. Fairly inexpensive and it works very well.
Like I said, a big learning curve with a lot of heartache. It's not all fun and games, though it can be a great reward when you get a brooder full of little baby chicks.
Edited by WhiteMountainsRanch - 1/25/12 at 9:25pm