Can I Have Chickens in Greeley, Colorado?

Chick on step

Can I have chickens in Greeley? This is the most common chicken question we hear. And the follow-ups to that question are: “How many chickens can I have in Greeley?” and “Are there any restrictions I should know about?” These are great questions we hear all the time on this site and in person, so I thought it would be a good time to clear things up, once and for all (unless the Greeley chicken or animal ordinances change in the future).

Perhaps you are a long-time chicken-veteran moving to Greeley and would like to start a small flock here, or you are new to the hen scene and are interested in keeping them because of all the wonderful reasons to have chickens. But you want to know, can I legally have chickens in the city limits of Greeley?

100_4687

I like to tell people that there is a short answer and a long answer to the question of whether or not a person can have chickens in the city of Greeley.

The short answer is: Yes.

The long answer is: It depends. And let me explain.

For one thing, it depends on who you ask at the City of Greeley. I have heard from people who talk with city staff that tell them straight out that they can’t have any, and others who say “go ahead”. Some have said they give them random number limits. Others say they can’t have roosters. But what does the ordinance on chickens actually say? Well, let’s take a look. Here is the the City Charter and Municipal Code so that you can check it out yourself.

Fruit Cocktail Tree

Ok, this is where it gets confusing. Now, I am not a lawyer, but this is how I read these ordinances and codes. And surely, by actually reading these documents, charters and codes you will be one step ahead when someone tries to tell you that you can’t have chickens in Greeley or whatever myth of the moment. Your mileage may vary.

In the greenhouse

According to one code, the so-called Animal Code (Title 7, Animals), people who raise chickens as “pets” or ”domesticated animals” could simply call these birds their pet animals. In that case, in the city of Greeley, as long as a pet owner follows all the various rules found in that Title 7 such as maintaining a healthy, safe environment for their pets and abide by all other city codes such as noise, odor, nuisance, animal humane care, etc, then they can have AS MANY PETS as they want. There is no number limit written in the animal codes.

So can you just call a chicken a pet? What is a domesticated animal or pet according to the City of Greeley?

americana chickens

Here is the actual wording definition:

7.04.097
 
Domesticated animal.
 
Domesticated animal means a pet or companion animal that is kept by humans for companionship, amusement or for the beauty of its appearance or utterances, rather than for economic reasons. A domesticated animal may include, but is not limited to, dogs, cats, fish, parrots, doves, cockatiels, budgies, cockatoos, finches, macaws, any other domesticated birds (except wild birds), nonpoisonous snakes under six (6) feet in length, rodents (including hamsters, guinea pigs,
mice, gerbils, chinchillas, degus, flying squirrels and rats), sugar gliders, rabbits, ferrets and pot-
bellied pigs. (Ord. 8,2006 §1)
and also:
7.04.210
Pet.
Pet means any animal customarily kept for pleasure rather than for utility. (Ord. 52, 1985 §1(
part))

Basically, as long as your main reason for having them is because you like them, rather than because you are starting a poultry farm business, you can call your chickens (rooster or hen) a domesticated animal or pet.

I combed through this animal code to see if it was prohibited anywhere in it to have chickens as pets. While it specifically prohibits dying baby chicks colors (7.08.130) as well as cockfights (7.08.020), it does not specifically say you can’t have them. In fact, the definition of domesticated animal/pet actually says that the list they wrote is not all inclusive and it specifically mentions “any other domesticated birds” as an example of an allowed pet!

You would think since they are so specifically addressing these mis-uses of chickens, that if having chickens at all was illegal to have as pets, this would be the place to specify it. But the prohibition of chickens in Greeley is nowhere in this code! In the animal code, chickens are clearly allowed as long as you are raising them as “pets”.

Chicken strawberries and cat

Once you have pointed these blatant facts out, the city may then claim that there is ANOTHER code that supercedes the animal code. This one is found in the city development section and it relates specifically to buildings and structures and accessory or temporary uses such as livestock . The city development code is the same section that deals with setbacks, parking and building designs, etc. Why would this code supercede the actual animal code section AKA the section that actually talks about proper uses of chickens and other animals?

Ok, so just for fun, if we look specifically at this Development Code, we see that section 18 is also quite ambiguous and arbitrary and up for interpretation depending on your definitions and what you call your chickens. This code is found under Chapter 18.52, Accessory and Temporary Uses, Structures and Buildings.  In this section (unlike the animal section) it doesn’t even define what livestock means (I would say based on Title 7, Animals the definition for livestock in this chapter is clearly for commercial rather than hobby or pet purposes).

Under this section there is what they call an “animal equivalency chart” that explains the number of “livestock chickens” you can have based on both how your lot is zoned as well as its size and how a randomly chosen number of chickens would be essentially “equal” to other livestock animals.

For instance, according to this chart, 10 chickens are “equivalent” to one cow on one acre of land. How is that even anywhere equivalent? A full grown cow or buffalo easily weighs 500-1500 lbs. Even of the fattest chickens, ten of them would weigh all together much less than 100 lbs (about 3-5 lbs each). Their space requirements are also much less as are their feed inputs and waste outputs. Basically, this is a completely arbitrary chart.

animal equivlancy
Chart taken from the Greeley Code Site.

Arbitrary, inappropriate for these purposes and completely misplaced or not, this sole chart in a buildings and structures chapter is what is being used as the basis of some city staff in chicken allowances to chicken hobbyists in Greeley. How this is sometimes being interpreted by the city to a hopeful backyard hobby chicken raising family (not livestock operations) is that you must have 1/10 of an acre for every chicken or 1/20 if you are zoned ag holding.

Either of these amounts of space is huge for a tiny 3 lb creature. This chart was clearly not intended for people who raise them for their family as a pet or hobby but rather to prevent large-scale commercial livestock operations in the city limits.

If you were to just look at it, the Animal Code as it refers to raising domesticated animals  and pets seems to more cleanly meet the criteria that people are actually intending to use their chickens for than the Accessory and Temporary Uses, Structures and Buildings chapter of city development code.

Still, even if one does go by that development code, most average sized properties could have at least one or two chickens (an average plot is about .15 to .3 acres). This code also does not specify the difference between roosters and hens, and so technically, a person could have a rooster and/or a hen.

Chickens at Dusk

So there you have the official codes as they relate to chickens and why it is pretty obvious a lot of myths persist. Since the codes are all convoluted, who knows how this should actually be interpreted. It would probably have to go to a judge to define. I think the language is vague enough (as well as completely arbitrary) that the judge may even just throw the whole thing out.

And while this is all the “official” code and language for keeping backyard or urban hens in Greeley, just like everything in life there is also the informal truth or how the law actually works in “real life”. In the case of the Greeley Chicken rules, at least for now, the city of Greeley doesn’t want to fight this issue or use city staff time to aggressively flush out chickens from town.

Essentially what this means is that if you have chickens and your neighbors don’t care, or don’t notice, or at least don’t turn you in, the city is not actively looking for “chicken violators”. If your neighbor is complaining and has a good reason, probably some other animal code is being broken anyway (like not cleaning the coop, allowing them to fly over fences, etc).

But if you have been a good pet owner and you still get a warning letter ticket, then simply show them the facts direct from city code as I have presented above. Most code enforcers don’t actually know the specific language of the code and are working on long-held, and sometimes incorrect interpretations. If you are willing to fight it, you will shed light on these ambiguous laws and perhaps change them for the better.

We received a warning letter, we wrote a response, and we tried to change the law. In the end, we were left alone to quietly raise our chickens. I think they didn’t want to take the matter in front of a judge and would rather just leave us be, especially since our neighbors both didn’t know and didn’t care that we had chickens. (If you get a warning letter that you are in violation for having backyard chickens, you can use our response letter as a template.)

And finally, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Perhaps you get a warning ticket. You either fight it and win, or you have to get rid of your $20 investment in chickens. Not too bad a scenario. Plus, if you make a big enough ruckus, you might even end up on the front page of the newspaper like we did and you’ll shed light on these silly, ambiguous codes.

Also, it’s always more fun to fight silly laws when you have the support of others. So please join the Greeley Backyard Hens Facebook Page.

These are just my observations, interpretations and experiences, so please take them as that. Hopefully they clarified some things, or at least pointed you to the right resources. Good luck, or shall I say, good cluck!

football sunset

 

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