Routt County chicken farmer seeks permit to process his own roasters


— Josh Kilbane still has a long list of permits he must obtain before he can begin processing 150 roasting chickens per week in an existing steel garage off U.S. Highway 40 west of Milner, but Kilbane received three thumbs up from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

“I applaud you for your willingness to go through all of these processes,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan told Kilbane.

Kilbane and Kristy Waterworth raised 2,500 chickens last summer at Yampa Valley Farms, selling them mostly to individuals, local restaurants and through a couple of retail outlets. In addition to roasters and laying hens, they raise pigs and Scottish highlander beef cattle on their farm near Pilot Knob in a remote area of the Elk River Valley. It’s all part of the permaculture approach to agriculture, which places a heavy emphasis on sustainability through the practice of concepts like integrated farming and applied ecology.

The chickens are raised outdoors in movable fenced enclosures that allow them to forage on insects, and their manure enriches the pasture.

The chickens Kilbane marketed last year came under a federal exemption for small producers. Colorado doesn’t have an inspection program for small chicken producers, he said. And the closest chicken slaughtering facility is about 200 miles away in Olathe. This year, he wants to take a more formal approach.

“I want to do this right,” he told the commissioners

Beginning this summer, Kilbane would like to begin slaughtering the chickens at his new plant away from the farm. But first, Routt County planner Alan Goldich told the commissioners, he must obtain an array of permits from U.S. Department of Agriculture for the slaughtering process, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Welfare. He also needs permits from the county environmental health and building departments plus a waiver from the Board of Adjustment.

Goldich said the Routt County Planning Commission voted unanimously April 4 to recommend approval of a special-use permit for the chicken-processing facility. There have been no comments or complaints about the proposal from neighbors, he added.

Kilbane told the commissioners he is taking a slower, more wholesome approach to raising flavorful chickens at Yampa Valley Farms compared to the industrial process used to raise the least expensive roasting chickens available at national grocery chains. Unlike the factory birds that reach slaughter weight in an unnatural four to five weeks, Kilbane said, his birds are raised in 10 weeks.

“I purchase a French breed of chicken that’s adaptable to this climate and is exceedingly good at natural foraging,” Kilbane said. “Every week, I pick up 150 chickens at the post office. I keep them in brooders for the first 21 days — 21 days is the key for this climate. On Day 21, they are in the field.”

Kilbane’s tentative plan for the summer is to bring his first chickens to the farm in May and increase their numbers by 150 each week so that at the end of the first 10 weeks, he will slaughter the first batch of 150 followed each succeeding week by another mature batch of roasters continuing into October. He will deliver the mature birds to the plant in Milner in a horse trailer.

“Ten weeks in, and on that very day, they go down to Milner, and they get processed,” Kilbane said. “There’s no leeway there. It’s a very regimented schedule.”

Waste left from the slaughtering process would be stored in cisterns until it is hauled back to the farm where composting it with organic material is a significant component to his farming operation.

“A lot of people see the offal as just waste, but to me, it’s black gold,” Kilbane said.

After the meeting, Kilbane confirmed that his chickens will derive as much as 30 percent of their nutrition by foraging for food in the pasture, including grasshoppers.

“They eat thousands of them” Kilbane said.

Chicken processing plant near Milner

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


Kevin Chapman 4 years ago

You go Josh.......nice work and good to hear you are moving forward and trying to provide local, well raised food for the valley. I have eaten your farm products in the past and it has always been delicious!!


John Weibel 4 years ago

I suppose others in the valley are not trying to do it right. Unfortunately, a firewall to alleviate engineering on a barn and to keep it from being a commercial structure, might also be doing it right.

Just have to wait for additional capital to dump another six figures into completion of a project that could be operational today but as there is no way to sell the product locally without a little processing that could be done in the milk house (an agriculturally excepted structure as its sole purpose is to store an ag product, that was to be processed in town long term, so now I wait for plans to build a firewall into the area that would have aged cheese long term - short term only immediately consumed cheese's would have been made along with some milk.

Oh well, still a year away from being able to operate and the right way also. - just don't see the logic behind requiring a 100 year old barn that has not been altered to require engineering to show it will stand the weather in the valley. Maybe if it were going to be a real commercial establishment with customers arriving daily. Yet the barn will still be a barn simply attached to commercial structure so it either needs to be commercial and to code, electrical code is fine, engineering of the structure makes no sense, except to achieve full employment of the engineers or as one individual suggested have some one put there stamp on it by simply looking at it, which if it were to somehow fail they would get sued which is not the right way to do it.

Oh well, I get a vacation this summer while I wait for a firewall in a new place with a changed plan, so that the code is met, yet no real changes will have been made, no safety threats went unaddressed before excluding having someone provide engineering for a structurally sound barn which would have been classified as commercial, according to the building department, technically could be taxed as commercial, which it is not. It is agricultural even though the milk house might have housed something other than agricultural - yet so is washing lettuce - which should be changed in the local building codes - as that is the "right thing to do"


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