When the price of eggs skyrocketed in early 2023 it seemed like everyone wanted to know about my experience with raising chickens in Colorado. If you think you’re ready to raise a Front Range flock right there at home, then this is the article for you. It contains some of the tips and tricks we have learned from raising chickens in Longmont, as well as an honest assessment of the work, money, and effort involved.
One of the many benefits of owning your own place is that you get to decide how to use your property to bring you delight and happiness. Is that a garden and chickens like for me? Or is it an HOA where your tidy landscaping brings you calm, peace, and delight? There are different routes to joy.
If you’re a homeowner and want to consider chickens, I hope this helps you navigate the decision. If you’re hoping to buy a place of your own, remember that where you choose to purchase will determine whether chickens are allowable!
Backyard Flocks on the (Front) Range
When we moved back to Longmont and were looking for our next home, my list of wants was long. However, my only non-negotiable was finding a home without an HOA. I’d grown accustomed to living in the country, growing a massive garden, and raising a backyard flock of chickens. Our then-toddler loved our chickens and would request kitchen scraps so she could go outside and feed “My Ladies.”
Of course, finding a home outside of an HOA can be a challenge in Boulder and Larimer counties. The homes in neighborhoods without HOAs tend to be older, fewer, and the look and feel of the neighborhood can vary quite a bit from street to street and even between neighboring houses. However, I was happy to forgo that in exchange for the chance to continue raising chickens! (Note: there are a few exceptions to the HOA = no chickens rule. If you’re buying outside of town in an HOA, it’s possible chickens are allowed.)
Chickens and Keeping the Peace with Neighbors
Before I detail our experience with raising chickens in Colorado, it’s helpful to remember that peaceful relations with neighbors are valuable. As a homeowner you share fence lines with people who will be there longer than your chickens will live, and it’s worth the effort to cultivate chicken love with them. While you’re free to do as local ordinances allow, if you can get neighbors excited about your effort (fresh eggs on their doorstep help!) your chickens can be a unifying force rather than a dividing one.
In our case, an adjoining neighbor was upset about the idea of neighboring chickens and would not sign the required Longmont backyard hen permit to allow us to free range the birds in our backyard on occasion. However, over time they became so thrilled by chicken charm that they now share our flock with us and we share the chicken-tending duties.
Don’t let chickens come between you and good people next door: engage, don’t enrage!
Chickens and Gardens Complement One Another
In Longmont you are not allowed to have your chickens free-range in your backyard unless all adjoining neighbors sign off on your permit (see above). Good chicken runs make for good neighborly relations, but they also make for contained chicken manure. Chicken manure is exceptionally rich in nitrogen and excellent for your garden, IF you properly compost it.
We have a few levels of food waste management underway at any given time: anything a chicken will eat goes to the chicken first, coffee grounds go to backyard compost, and the rest goes to city compost. I love that my chickens turn waste into eggs and compost, which in turn grow my family and veggies.
When considering the cost and effort involved in raising chickens in Colorado, it’s helpful to consider if you garden, and if so, if you would honestly use (composted) manure in your garden beds. For me the answer is an emphatic yes. This makes the cost-benefit analysis of keeping chickens a little more balanced, plus it reduces overall waste, so it’s a win-win in my book.
The Cost of Chickens in Colorado
The cost of raising chickens in Colorado is greater than I experienced when living in rural California.
For one: they need a sturdy run that will keep them safe from raccoons. The initial investment in infrastructure is pretty significant.
Raccoons love to kill and eat chickens, so you really need to invest the time and resources needed to build a structure that will keep the chickens safe. My neighbor and I happened to have a lot of scrap wood and chicken wire available, so the run was only maybe $100 in extra materials. It could have easily been $600. We purchased a really large, sturdy, used coop for $150—that alone could have been $800+.
Plus, in Colorado I have to heat their water all winter. The warming dish was perhaps $45. We used a small amount electricity throughout the winter to keep their water from freezing. I’ll also admit to being a softy: I heat their coop with a heat lamp when it’s especially cold. Supposedly it’s OK to skip this step, but I don’t.
True story: every time it dips below -10 or so, I reach other to other local chicken enthusiasts and ask them if they are going to heat their chicken coop that night. Everyone always reminds me birds live outside in the wild and they will be fine without heat. Then I worry incessantly that my birds are softies, and put more heat lamps in anyway.
Chickens are Not Silent
Chickens are technically considered livestock. Though I’d raised chickens and ducks for the prior 10+ years, I was always on a large piece of land. The parcels were big enough that the birds roamed free and their vocalizations were bucolic ambiance.
In the suburbs, chicken vocalizations can be akin to having a barking dog outside. Chickens are quieter and less persistent than dogs, but the noise is still jarring. I still think it’s charming, but I can see why you’re only allowed to have a limited number. The quantity of chickens allowable varies from city to city, with Longmont allowing four, Fort Collins allowing six, and Boulder allowing ten.
Chicken Food is Perfect…for Mice, too
This was another thing I didn’t believe would be an issue raising chickens in the suburbs, as it was never a concern in the country. Chickens are like the toddlers of animals: they toss their food hither and yon, caring not what gets wasted on the ground. Mice are happy to clean up for them.
If you’re going to raise chickens in the suburbs, you need a mouse management plan! Flip lids that go on five-gallon buckets an efficient way to capture mice. You can capture many per night, and you don’t need to reset the trap.
The Economics of Raising Chickens in Colorado
Everyone asks me if raising chickens is economically worth it. Knowing me, you may be surprised to know that I doubt that it is. Chickens are not economically rational, especially in a cold climate like ours. From my observations, I would say they eat about 1/3 more during the winter than my chickens did in California.
I don’t care. I have chickens because I like them, not because of their production value.
I like chickens. I giggle every time that they come when I call them. I think their sounds are cute. My daughter can tell them all apart and tells me about their personalities. For my family, they are adorable, egg-providing, garden-enriching, entertaining backyard souls… and we all love having them.
Being a homeowner means that you get to decide how to use your property to bring you joy. Is that a garden and chickens like for me? Or is it an HOA where your tidy landscaping brings you calm and delight? There are different routes to joy. What brings you happiness and delight? Answer that question, then follow that path.
I hope this helps you consider if chickens are right for you. If you have questions I didn’t address, please contact me and I’ll update this post!
I'm Libby Earthman. I specialize in helping first-time buyers and sellers pursue financial security on the Northern Front Range.
825 Delaware Ave, Suite 208
Longmont, CO 80501