The Importance of Managing Your Rural Acreage
The 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 change over time. The County’s climate is unsuitable for many crops due to the short growing season, though hay production and certain specialty crops can be viable. Participating in agricultural activities continues to be important to many rural residents for both lifestyle and health preferences. Productive agricultural activities can mean securing a lower agricultural property tax status. Horse ownership is another important component of rural life for many County residents.
Mismanaged animal activities can have a devastating impact on your property and adjoining neighbors. Overgrazing can lead to erosion, dust, and weed infestation. A single horse given unlimited access to a pasture can de-vegetate it in a short period of time, with or without supplemental feeding. Once de-vegetated, restoration can take years to accomplish. Animal waste management can also impact land and water quality. Manure is generally stored in a contained bin or pile for subsequent hauling, composting, or spreading. Composting, prior to spreading, is highly recommended to avoid 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 larger stream system.
Animal Uses – Regulations and 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 Douglas County Conservation District. 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. These rules and further guidance on these issues is available in the Animal Information Packet.
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 can become predators to neighbors’ livestock or prey to wild predators in the area.
Agricultural Tax Rate
The State of Colorado has specific rules, 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 determining value and tax rate category, as opposed to the property’s zoning classification. Being in an Agricultural One (A-1) Zone District does not ensure that you will be assessed at the lower agricultural tax rate. Rather, your land must provide 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 specific rules that the County Assessor applies when valuing your property for agricultural assessment purposes.
Noxious Weed Control
Noxious weeds can severely degrade the quality of agricultural lands and wildlife habitat throughout the county if uncontrolled. Many weeds often look like attractive wildflowers, but can quickly 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. Research 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 individual landowners to control noxious weeds on private lands. Douglas County provides 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.
Many land-disturbance activities require a Grading, Erosion, and Sediment Control (GESC) Permit from Douglas County. While routine agricultural operations and activities are usually exempt from the permit process, other activities will require the issuance of a County grading permit. Such activities include the construction of berms for sound or visual mitigation and the construction of ponds, among others. Prior to the start of any grading on your site, please contact the Douglas County Department of Public Works Engineering or reference Section 1.4 and Section 1.5 of the Douglas County GESC Manual to determine if a permit will be necessary.