By Sharon Bokan
Colorado State University Extension Boulder County
Your family is growing, you are retiring, or you just want more room for hobbies, livestock, growing your own fruits and vegetables or just space — so you decide to purchase property in a rural area. Rural living is different than living in a residential area. Being prepared and knowing the differences is critical to you loving where you live or hating it.
Before you start looking for a property, it’s best to sit down and decide why you want to purchase an acreage, what you would like to do on the property — i.e., have livestock, provide supplemental income through hay production or another product or just don’t want to be 10 feet from your next-door neighbor. Make a list of what you want to do and the attributes you want on the property. Remember to think long-term as your children will grow up and leave home, and you will get older, so planning for this ahead of time is smart. You might be fine hauling hay when you are in your 30s but you may need help when you’re in your 80s.
Once you have your list, then you can start talking to a Realtor. Your list will help guide them to properties that fit what you want. It’s best to find a Realtor who is familiar with rural properties. If you are not sure what questions to ask about a property, Extension has a booklet, “Purchasing Rural Property in Colorado,” extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/natres/xcm235.pdf, that will help you know what to ask.
One area that I find most people do not understand is the number of livestock that are allowed on a property per land use code versus the actual livestock number that a property can support vegetatively. Depending on how your property is zoned you may be able to keep from no to four animal units per acre. Agricultural zoning allows for four animal units per acre, while rural or estate residential only allow two animal units per acre (assets.bouldercounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/p29-keeping-animals-in-boulder-county.pdf). So, what is an animal unit? An animal unit is equal to one full-size horse or one cow or five goats or sheep or 50 chickens. If you have two acres and are zoned as rural residential, you could by land use code have four horses, but your two acres would not support those horses without supplemental hay and feed. In this area it takes approximately 25 to 40 acres (depending on the vegetation available and whether the property is irrigated or not) to support one horse or cow without supplemental feed. So, you must be prepared to purchase additional feed or have the property turn into a dirt lot and have hungry horses.
Another area where people do not always understand what they have purchased involves water. Just because you have a ditch that runs across your property does not mean that you have the right to take water out of the ditch to water your pasture. Water in Colorado is owned by the citizens of Colorado. Unless you have a decree (water right) from Water Court, you don’t have water rights. You might have shares in a ditch company that has a decree allowing them to pull X number of acre feet from the creek. How many shares you have in the company will let you know how much water you can use. Each ditch company has a different decree amount along with a different number of shares, so you need to check with them to find out the actual amount of water you have.
Doing your homework before you purchase a property will help you find a property that fits your needs and expectations now and in the future.
Sharon Bokan is the small acreage coordinator for Colorado State University Extension Boulder County in Longmont.