Land Management: Animals, Overgrazing, Manure and Weeds

The Importance of Managing Your Rural Acreage

Land-ManagementThe number of large ranches and farms within the County has declined, as property values have increased, water supplies become more limited, and food production methods and markets substantially changed over time. The County’s climate is unsuitable for many kinds of crops due to its short growing season, though hat production and certain specialty crops can be viable.  The ability to participate in agricultural activities continues to be important to many rural residents for both lifestyle and health preferences.  Productive agricultural activities are also important as a means of securing a lower agricultural property tax status.  Horse ownership is another important component of rural life for many of the County’s residents.

Managing even a small acreage can be quite challenging for new rural residents.  Many residents choose to own animals, or lease to a cattle grazing operation.  Children have the opportunity to raise and care for animals as part of the County’s several 4-H clubs. The Douglas County Fair and Rodeo is a major event in the County’s community life each August.Too many or improperly managed animal activities can have devastating impact on your property and those of your adjoining neighbors.  Overgrazing can lead to erosion, dust, and weed infestation.  A single horse given unlimited access to a pasture area can de-vegetate that pasture in a very short period of time, with or without supplemental feeding, and once de-vegetated, restoration can literally take years to accomplish.How thoughtfully you manage your animals’ waste can also impact land and water quality. Manure is generally stored, either in a contained bin or in a pile, for subsequent hauling, composting, or spreading.  Composting prior to spreading is highly recommended to avoid the proliferation of weeds across the property and vegetation damage due to high nitrate levels.  An improperly located manure pile can easily contaminate water in nearby drainage ways, impacting the large stream system as well.

Animal Uses – Regulations & Guidelines

Colorado State University (CSU) Extension provides extensive guidelines for small acreage property owners including resources for proper grazing practices and manure composting. Technical assistance and information is also available through the http://www.dcconservation.com/.  The County strongly encourages all rural property owners to consult these guidelines and take full advantage of the resources and technical assistance provided through these agencies.

Douglas County has adopted rules and regulations regarding livestock and the number of animals allowed on a property.  Generally, the number of animals allowed is tied to the size of your property.  The regulations also make a distinction between horse ownership and commercial horse boarding, the latter of which typically requires a formal land use application and approval process through Douglas County.  Douglas County also has requirements for animal manure management. Manure must be removed regularly or otherwise composted and spread in such a manner as to protect surface and groundwater, to minimize the breeding of flies, and to control odors. To see these rules and to receive further guidance on these issues, visit Planning Information Packets

Also be aware that Colorado has “Right to Farm” legislation under Senate Bill 29, which protects farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits potentially brought by neighboring (non-agricultural) properties.   Colorado is also a “fence out” state, meaning that it is your obligation to fence for purposes of keeping other’s cattle or other livestock off your property, if that is important to you.  In most cases, rural property owners do, in fact, fence their livestock operations to ensure that their animals do not get out onto public roads and pose a safety risk to traveling vehicles.

A final note – moving into a rural area does not provide license to let pets roam.  Pets can become a nuisance to neighbors and they can even become predators to neighbors’ livestock or prey to wild predators in the area.  

Noxious Weed Control

Douglas County is host to several species of noxious weeds which, if uncontrolled, can severely degrade the quality of agricultural lands and wildlife habitat throughout the County. Noxious weeds often look like attractive wildflowers, but if left unchecked can take over and destroy a lawn or pasture. Over-intensive animal grazing and manure mismanagement are the primary culprits in noxious weed infestation.

The most common noxious weeds that threaten the County’s rural areas include: Cypress spurge, Dalmatian Toadflax, Diffuse Knapweed, Hoary Cress, Leafy Spurge, Musk Thistle, Myrtle spurge, Russian Knapweed, Saltcedar, and Yellow Toadflax.  Such weeds can often be mistaken for wildflowers, however.  It is important to do your homework on noxious weed species in order to identify their presence on your property.

While the County works to control weeds on publicly-owned property, it is the legal responsibility of the individual landowners to control noxious weeds on private lands.  Douglas County is tasked with providing technical assistance to private property owners to control noxious weeds.

Early detection and treatment is the best means of avoiding negative impacts to the health of the larger rural ecosystem. To find out more about noxious weeds in the County and available weed control assistance, visit Douglas County Weed Management. 

Agricultural Tax Rate

The State of Colorado has specific rules, as administered by the Douglas County Assessor’s Office, for the valuation of land for property tax purposes.  The Assessor considers the actual use of the land when determination value and tax rate category, as opposed to the property’s zoning classification.  Being in an Agricultural-One (A-1) Zoning District does not ensure that you will be assessed at the lower agricultural tax rate.  Rather, your land must provide you with a certain level of agricultural income for a period of time before the agricultural assessment can be obtained.  In general, the personal ownership of horses does not create the basis for an agricultural tax rate.  Please refer to the link below for the specific rules which the County Assessor will apply when valuing your property for agricultural assessment purposes: Agricultural Tax Rate