Can you legally keep chickens in Lexington? How to avoid ruffling your neighbor’s feathers

Backyard chickens have seen bumps in popularity in recent years between the at-home isolation of the coronavirus pandemic and inflation and other woes that have pushed up the price of eggs.

However, if you’re in Lexington or Fayette County, it can be difficult to know what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to keeping chickens in residential neighborhoods and outside of agricultural areas. To explore this topic, we spoke with Travis Robinson with chicken-keeping cooperative CLUCKy and consulted Lexington’s ordinances for backyard chickens.

While Fayette County doesn’t seem to impose a lot of rules and restrictions on what residents can do with their backyard chickens, there are some things to be mindful of if you want to get into the hobby.

Here’s what to know, including how you can keep your chickens happy and avoid ruffling your neighbors’ feathers.

Do residents need a permit to keep chickens?

The Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Code of Ordinances sets out the rules for keeping fowl, such as chickens.

While there is a provision that prohibits chickens from roaming freely and other provisions restricting the sale of chicks, there doesn’t appear to be a permit requirement to keep chickens in your backyard.

Lexington also doesn’t seem to limit how many chickens residents can keep. The provisions of its code of ordinances that directly reference keeping fowl do not mention a limit as to how many of the birds residents can keep.

For comparison, Louisville residents can keep no more than five “non-crowing poultry” and only one rooster. Bowling Green allows residents no more than five hens. Residents there aren’t allowed to have roosters within city limits.

While this may sound like a free pass for Lexington residents to own as many chickens as they want, the city’s ordinances still require that the birds be kept humanely.

Will raising chickens get on my neighbors’ nerves?

The first thing you should do before you start keeping chickens is to check in with your neighbors, including the rules your homeowners association may have, if applicable.

Robinson strives to practice what he calls responsible chicken keeping, which he describes as “not offending your neighbors” and “taking care of the birds in a way that’s humane and good for them.”

Overall, you want to make it so it’s not too much of a challenge to maintain them, Robinson believes.

You can do this, he says, by getting to know your neighbors and talking with them about what you’re doing. When you build your chicken coop and run, don’t install it right next to your neighbor’s home. Robinson keeps his chickens at the end of his backyard and away from any neighboring homes.

Controlling odor issues also goes a long way with keeping your neighbors happy.

Travis Robinson’s backyard chicken coop and run, seen April 22, 2024, is at the back of his property, away from neighboring homes. Aaron Mudd
Travis Robinson’s backyard chicken coop and run, seen April 22, 2024, is at the back of his property, away from neighboring homes. Aaron Mudd

There will be some smell no matter what you do, but you can mitigate it by keeping your chicken coop and run clean. That means regularly cleaning out the area and offsetting smelly nitrogen — in this case chicken poop — with a lot of carbon material. Robinson likes to use hemp bedding in his coop and wood chips in the run.

You should also be aware of the city’s nuisance ordinances as they relate to keeping chickens.

Robinson said the city does not specifically ban residents from keeping roosters, instead treating them like barking dogs. For example, the city has a rule against keeping noisy animals outside of agricultural zones, such as residential neighborhoods. A noisy rooster could conceivably fall into that category.

Violating this rule comes with a fine of no less than $5 and up to $15 for each offense. Lexington’s animal control officers are generally given the authority to impound animals that aren’t being adequately cared for or have become a nuisance.

Can I let my chickens roam freely?

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Code of Ordinances is unambiguous in this respect: Fowl, such as chickens, are not allowed to roam freely.

It states anyone who violates the rule will be fined no less than $1 and up to $25 for each offense.

While it may seem appealing to let your chickens roam freely and feed on whatever they like, it’s not necessarily the best approach if you want to keep your flock healthy. They could become prey, but also could contract avian influenza by fraternizing with migratory geese and ducks carrying the pathogen. Avian flu is highly contagious and deadly for domestic birds, so one exposure event could prove disastrous for your flock.

Robinson takes pains to protect his own chickens from the flu.

“My No. 1(rule) is to keep people out of my chicken coop and run. Because you can carry it on your feet or on your shoes,” Robinson said. “I have a dedicated pair of chicken boots that I only use for in the chicken run.”

To be extra safe, Robinson doesn’t use bird feeders or at least keeps them away from his chicken coops.

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Can I sell chicks in Fayette County?

This can be tricky because the state of Kentucky and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government have laws about selling chicks.

Under Kentucky law, you cannot legally “sell, exchange, offer to sell or exchange or to give away baby chicks, ducklings, or other fowl or rabbits, under two months of age in any quantity less than six.”

An offense comes with a fine of at least $100 and up to $500.

Lexington’s ordinance on the topic borrows from state law and establishes “any person who shall sell or offer for sale at retail living baby chicks, ducklings or other fowl under two months of age in any quantity less than six shall be subject to a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500 or imprisonment for a term not to exceed 12 months, or both, for each act which shall be a separate offense.”

Where can I learn more about keeping chickens?

The Cooperative of Lexington Urban Chicken Keepers, known as CLUCKy, is a great resource for those just getting started. The group meets on the third Thursday of each month at West Sixth Brewing in the barrel room, Robinson said.

The group is also preparing for its annual Tour d’Coops, during which members invite the public to check out their backyard chicken coops and runs.

This year’s event will take place May 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. Check in for this self-guided tour will be at the Redwood Cooperative School at 166 Crestwood Drive in Lexington. Tickets for adults are $10, but children younger than age 12 can take the tour for free. Tickets are available for sale through CLUCKy’s website.

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