Hatching eggs can be a very rewarding experience and many beginners and experienced chicken keepers are incubating and raising their own eggs now that incubators have become cheaper and easy to purchase. Although there is nothing like the magic of seeing a chick emerging blinking from its shell into the world for the first time, especially if you have children, there are some points you first need to consider.
Male Chickens (Roosters)
As there is no way of telling the sex of a chicken from an unhatched egg, your eggs will on average hatch out in a 50:50 ratio of males to females. Keeping a number of roosters is not practical and in fact keeping even one in some urban settings contravenes local laws. Even if you have the space and are allowed to keep roosters you will have problems as too many roosters will lead to your hens being overbred, resulting in injuries which in some instances can be fatal. Too many roosters will also fight amongst themselves. The usual recommendation is to keep about one rooster for every seven to ten hens, if you want a decent fertility level within your flock. If you do not wish to expand your flock further or produce excess birds for sale, then you will not be able to house even one rooster.
Unless you are hatching an autosexing breed (where markings or colour of the chicks are different colours on hatching – parents are both from the same pure bred) or have crossed two birds, (different breeds) that give a sex-linked chick (again on hatching sexes will have different down colour or markings) then you will need to think ahead to when the young growers can be sexed at around 8 weeks of age and consider what you will do with the excess of male birds. Male birds are nearly impossible to rehome as everyone has too many. Of course even if you can tell the sex of the chick on hatching you will have to be prepared to make a decision then as to what to do with the males, which is not often easy for the hobby chicken keeper, especially when children are involved.
The 50:50 ratio, female to male is an average overall of all chickens hatched in the world, so by the laws of averages not everyone will get this, some may get 85% female and 15% male. However be prepared especially if you are doing this as a one-off exercise of the possibility of 85% males. I knew of one unlucky first timer who had 9 out of her 10 eggs hatch out as males!
Although in principle hatching eggs is fairly straightforward, it usually takes a bit of practice and experience to achieve a high hatching rate. You will find that eggs from your own flock or bought locally will have a better hatching rate than shipped ones. Shipped eggs if treated roughly can often produce no chicks and even with a specialised carrier you should only expect a 50% hatching rate.
Finally although hatching your own chicks is a great experience, if you wish to only keep a few hens in the backyard for eggs then going down the hatching route, given the male chick problem and the time involved in hatching your own eggs, plus the cost of a little used incubator; it may not be such a good idea.