Having no prior experience with chickens we have acquired much of our knowledge through trial & error over the last couple of years. We were very grateful to come across the BarkYardChicken website! We've included our story and lessons we've learned along the way below.
Our First Chickens (June 2006)- Our chicken journey started as an afterschool project my wife Michelle did with her students at school. After the hatch on one of the last days of school the chicks came to our home as the students could not keep them in their housing development.
The journey has been a learning process from the beginning; as soon as the hatch many of the chicks immediately came down sick. We quarentined the sick birds which were exhibiting signs of lathargy and sealed eyelids. We called the vet who gave us anti-biotics for all the chicks and we continued to feed the sick birds fluid through a small tube trying to keep them hydrated and their habitat sanitized with bleach water.
At the beginning of the process we had 12 eggs from a local chicken grower for the incubation project, 9 of which were fertalized, 6 hatched, 3 died of illness within the first couple of days and 3 survived the whole ordeal. (Shown in the pictre above Coco & Snowflake [aka "Roostie"] as named by the students.) Popcorn our 3rd chicken survived the first couple of months until the neighbor dog did a "snatch and run".
The following Fall the city in which we lived contacted us about a few chickens at large in which the previous owners let the fenced chicken yard collapse, in turn the chickens were running loose and pretty much ferel. The weather was freezing, the birds were roosting in a tree, and were beggining to fall prey to neighborhood dogs. We came to the rescue and adopted 4 more chickens (2 Rhode Island Reds & 2 Plymouth Rocks). They spent the winter in our garage out of the snow. We found great difficulty trying to integrate the new birds with our old ones even though we tried several different ways. Eventually we found them a new home with less snow the following Spring.
In the meantime Coco, began to show walking difficulties where her one leg curled up to her chest and she started to limp around using only one leg. So...back to the vet we went. Luckily our vet cares enough about our chickens he researched her condition doing an x-ray on her joint and found that the tissue within the joint was breaking down most likely due to a Vitamin D deficiency. Sure enough, we researched our feed and indeed it did not contain any Vitamin D and due to the inclimate, freezing weather, and several feet of snow we had not let our chickens into their "play yard"so they hadn't received any sunlight. In turn we bought a higher quality feed, grew wheat grass to supplement fresh veggies, and did daily leg exercises (such as bicycling motions and leg extentions) with Coco to build up her joint. We lucked out again and Coco's joint became much stronger and soon enough she was back to normal!
Through the years we were able to introduce a few additional chickens with Coco and Roostie and were getting quite a few eggs. One morning in Spring 2009 we were in for a surprise. As we heard the chickens squaking frantically we ran to pen thinking that maybe a dog had broken in or was prowling around. However, as we neared their pen we found a bobcat in the middle of the yard holding Coco in its' mouth. It was too late for Coco. I grabbed the nearest thing I could find, an axe sitting next to the coop, and cornered the bobcat while my wife and sister ushered the remaining chickens out of the pen. The bobcat ran up the fence, through a small hole, up the tree above the chicken coop and sat on a branch ready to pounce on the chickens that were now outside the coop standing by my wife and sister. In the meantime, my father, had went inside the house to fetch a pistol, and that was the end of the bobcat. We turned the bobcat over to Fish & Game who determined that the bobcat was a couple of years old and looked as if it was close to starving. Apparently chicken looked like an easy meal. Our flock had 5 birds left.
About year later, Summer 2010, we had another chicken come up missing and couldn't figure out where it went. A month later we learned that an intruder had forcefully entered into our fenced yard by pushing the fence in(attached to a wooden frame with industrial staples) and entered our coop only to snatch a hen from her roost. Roostie it appears came to her rescue. However, we found the hen in the yard and poor Roostie lying outside the pen with his spurs stuck in the fence (the only thing that prevented him from being completely carried away). Whatever came into our yard encountered quite a bit of resistance but we lost three birds from this intruder. Fish & Game loaned us a live trap in which we caught a large raccoon from the coop a following night. It went to an area far away from our town! Our flock had two birds left (Penelope & Snow White).
We've learned several hard lessons along the way. First, it's important that birds have a dry clean environment and a good vet can be a godsend. Second, it's almost impossible to integrate adult birds from different flocks together. Third, having a secure coop and pen will save a lot of time a heartache. Finally, owning chickens is a constant learning process!
This Spring we decided to take another go at it and have added 7 chicks to our flock. We have plans to upgrade our coup and rebuild the run to be predator proof. We are hoping that we've learned enough to have a healthy, long lasting flock, that will continue to produce free-range, organic, eggs.
Our Current Flock (possibly all hens...we'll see):

Snow White, Penelope, Spade, Midnight, Henry Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn, Chip, Blue's Clue, & Black Bird.