By Sara Brown
There is a fence between the cattle on Farmer A’s land and cattle on Farmer B’s land. I didn’t say it was a good fence, and at this very moment, it’s a fence that needs to be replaced. The Angus cattle on one side are color blind to the Charolais cattle on the other side.
So who replaces the fence? In Missouri, fence law can be a hot topic—and a confusing matter for many livestock producers. Missouri is a “closed-range” state, meaning property owners without livestock do not need to put up exterior fencing along public roads or public property (such as parks or airports). The law does require livestock owners or operators to restrain their livestock from running at large.
In this example, land on each side of Farmer A’s and B’s fence has been bought and sold several times since the fence was erected, and neither farmer has records of any contract to maintain the fence. Since both Farmer A and B have cattle bordering the fence, both are liable for cost of a new or repaired fence. In Missouri, the law states a “lawful fence” is any fence consisting of posts and wire or boards at least 4’ high with posts set firmly in the ground not more than 12’ apart.
Here are some other scenarios:
What if your neighbor doesn’t have livestock? Farmer C in this example has a field of soybeans that neighbors Farmer A’s cattle pasture. In Missouri law, Farmer A is responsible for maintaining the entire fence. Many other states allow “compulsory contribution” whether or not the neighboring landowner has livestock against the division fence.
If your animals get out. If Farmer A’s cattle get out into Farmer’s C’s bean field, Farmer C can collect damages on his property. That means producers can be liable for any damages caused to a neighbor’s crop and/or livestock if your livestock crossed the portion of a division fence and it was in need of repair.If your livestock crossed your neighbor’s portion of a division fence and it was in need of repair, you would not be liable for his crops and/or livestock damages. If your escaped livestock are injured, you can recover for their injuries from your neighbor.
What about “optional fence law” counties? In “optional fence law” counties (in Missouri, as of January 2008): Bates, Clinton, Daviess, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Knox, Linn, Macon, Mercer, Newton, Putnam, Schuyler, Scotland. Shelby, Sullivan, Saint Clair and Worth Counties) if either neighboring landowner needs a division fence, the neighbor has to pay for half the cost of the lawful fence and maintain half. A lawful fence is defined as one equivalent to a fence of four barbed wires supported by posts not more than 12’ apart or 15’ apart with one stay. If either neighbor wants a more costly fence, he will have to build and pay for it. There are no right-hand rules in optional counties, each neighbor is responsible for half. Disputes are handled by the associate circuit court. If livestock trespass through your section of the fence and it was in need of repair, you may be liable for actual damages.
Missouri’s fence law can be very confusing. For county-specific information, contact your local Extension agent or your attorney for legal advice. E-mail me your comments!
|This column is part of the Beef Today Cattle Drive e-newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes beef industry analysis, market information as well as the latest beef headline news. Click here to subscribe.