As said before, we love our hens and they really have become an important part of our little homestead. They sit under our bedroom window in the morning cooing to wake us up, they preen on the back porch waiting for sunflower seeds, they still like being held and petted, and are a great source of entertainment for us. Recently we had our extended family visiting us, and the hens were a big part of the week's activities for the kids. I loved watching the kids leap out of bed in the morning, running out of the house in pajamas to see if any eggs had been laid yet!
There have been some questions regarding where to source chicken feed and supplies. Here are a few ideas. Locally, the easiest place to purchase chicks as day-olds (starting in February) is from Frey's Hatchery (in St. Jacobs). They have an online catalogue, which talks about breeds and basic chicken care. You can also purchase pullets from Frey's later in summer (pullets are hens, at least 20 weeks old, that have started laying but have not moulted yet). Frey's offers white egg layers (Leghorn), brown egg layers (Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Barred Rock, New Hampshire x Barred Rock, Columbian Rock x Red, Red Shaver, etc), and "meat birds". You can choose hens based on certain qualities such as winter hardy, friendly-disposition, good egg laying, and so on, depending on what you are looking for. Frey's also offers roosters, turkeys, ducks and pheasants - if you have the space to raise these!
Of course there are many local farms where you would be able to purchase chicks as well. There is one nearby farm that raises specifically heritage breeds and unique varieties - so if you are looking for something like a Buff Orpington, Australorpe, or Silkie, you might have to ask around a little more but you can probably find it. Another old fashioned way to purchase specialty chickens (like blue or speckled egg layers), is going through a mail-order hatchery that will ship chicks by cardboard box across North America! In any case, you need to have your pen or coop ready, with bedding, water, food, shelter, for the day your chicks arrive home.
When we first got our day old chicks they lived in a large hampster cage lined with bran as bedding, in our kitchen. They cuddled up to sleep on a pile of old woolen socks, and when they had learned to eat and drink, and the weather was warm enough for them to go outside, we transitioned them into a smaller run and finally the larger coop with enclosed run. Their nest boxes are still lined with fresh wheat bran, and straw covers the coop floor. Most days they free-range around our yard and garden, and find their way into the coop for egg laying and at night.
As for feed, you can make your own, or purchase - there is a starter crumbles mix for young chicks, and then Omega layer rations, plus scratch grains (cracked corn, etc) which is more of an occasional snack. To purchase these locally you can go to Jones Feed Mill near the Waterloo Market, or purchase an organic chicken feed through Bailey's Local Foods. Of course, they also eat loads of fruit & vegetable peels and other food scraps that are destined for the compost, plus garden greens, dandelion, herbs like comfrey, etc. Some ideas of good food for hens are lettuce, greens (spinach, kale, chard), tomatoes, corn, bread, pasta, cottage cheese. Bad foods are spicy, rotten, sour, processed foods, raw potato peels, cabbage (makes eggs stinky). Hens also need constant access to water, and grit to help digest their food (e.g. crushed eggshells, crushed oyster shells, limestone).
If you are going to make your own feed, the book Backyard Poultry Naturally, by Alana Moore gives some recipe ideas for making your own chicken feed. For example:
65 % mixed grain, 7% alfalfa meal, 8% soya meal, 6% ground oyster shells, 3 % bone meal, 1 % trace minerals
2 parts wheat grain, 1 part wheat bran, 1/2 part oats or oat bran, 1/4 parts corn meal, 1 1/2 parts greens (alfalfa, comfrey)