Hi there! Welcome from western Kentucky! This is a GREAT place to hang out and spend an hour or two... or seven... or all night, or... You are likely to run across LOTS of people who are friendly and gracious about sharing their experiences, their triumphs, their failures, their joys, and their heartbreak regarding all facets of life and animal husbandry, (and not just chickens!). You may also run across a few horse's patoots, but don't let them chase you off! As to laying chickens needing commercial laying mash, I don't feed mine the mash because it sours very quickly on our warm humid spring & summer days. On recommendation from the vet, I feed medicated chick starter to all my chickens, guineas, the turkey (1 blue slate hen turkey who THINKS she's a chicken!), and the ducks because apparently we have a BOATLOAD of coccidia oocysts in the soil here -- I've had some losses of both chicks, full grown chickens, and a duck to coccidiosis. I keep oyster shell out for the hens free-choice, and they freerange over the run and our very large backyard except when it's really icy or snowy like it is right now. The main difference between layer feed and other is the added calcium in the layer feeds. The layer feed is also somewhat lower in protein levels than the Flock Raiser or Game bird Chow or something like that, but because I have a mixed flock, I buy something they can all eat without having to buy several different varieties of food. You may want to do a little research on the different heritage breeds, and decide on a breed with a pea comb or rose comb since they can handle the cold a little better than those breeds with the large, multipointed combs (they can be susceptible to frostbite, and can lose a lot of body heat through those big combs). Again, welcome!