City officials tell Orscheln Farm and Home it can’t sell chickens or ducks from its Lawrence store

You don’t want to fool around with fowl.

At least when it comes to interpreting the law, that’s the position city attorneys are taking. City officials confirmed on Thursday that they have notified Orscheln Farm and Home, 1541 E. 23rd St., that its long-standing practice of selling young chickens and ducks from its store is in violation of a city code crafted to regulate the raising of chickens in residential backyards.

The store, which has been hosting its annual Chick Days Sale for more than a decade, abruptly ended the sale in mid-April — about two weeks earlier than normal — after the city notified the store it was in violation.

“It has been quite a loss in revenue and it has been quite a loss for our customers, too,” Jamie Knabe, an assistant manager at Orscheln, said.

Assistant City Attorney Chad Sublet said inspectors with the city’s Animal Control Division inspected Orscheln’s indoor coops that house the baby chickens and ducks after a citizen inquiry was made.

Sublet said he reviewed the city law related to legally housing chickens in the city limits and felt it left him no room to grant an exemption for Orscheln. The issue comes up just a few weeks after the city receive significant publicity by strictly interpreting the law to prevent a local artist from publicly slaughtering chickens as part of an art exhibit. The city attorney’s office also cited the law to stop the artist from creating a public display of live chickens in a coop.

“We felt like we needed to be consistent, especially after that issue,” Sublet said. The city’s ordinance regarding the keeping of chickens, however, was crafted to accommodate residents who wanted to raise chickens in a residential neighborhood. The ordinance requires indoor coops to provide at least 10 square feet of space per chicken. For a commercial business that may have 200 chicks in their store, that would require 2,000 square feet of space — a size larger than many houses — devoted to chickens.

The city ordinance also doesn’t make any distinction between full grown chickens and chicks, nor does the ordinance create standards for businesses that are located in commercially zoned districts rather than residential neighborhoods.

Sublet said the ordinance doesn’t contain any language that authorizes his office to grant an exception to the law.

Sublet said it is his understanding that animal control officers did not find any particular problems related to the care or health of the chicks. He said he has told an attorney with Orscheln that the company can ask the City Commission to rewrite the ordinance to allow for such chick sales in the future.

“We’re definitely open to discussions about tweaking the ordinance,” Sublet said.

An attempt to reach an official at Orscheln’s corporate office wasn’t successful on Thursday.

— City reporter Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362. Follow him at