Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? (March 27, 2018)
Do good fences make good neighbors? No. Fences are a tool. Neighbors are complex human beings. The tool does not change the nature of the human.
Laws regarding tools are important especially when the responsibility for a tool is shared by different owners. Fences are tools we use to divide areas. Most importantly, fences are traditionally used to designate where my property ends and your property begins. In such cases, who is responsible for the costs of installation and upkeep of that fence? The answer depends on the laws in your location.
As a landowner, it is imperative to understand the fence laws in your location so that you do not encroach on your neighbor and so that you can tell if your neighbor is trying to encroach upon your land. Likewise, knowledge of who is responsible for what will help you to know if your neighbor is trying to take advantage of you and, conversely, how you can avoid opening yourself up to a lawsuit.
The first thing I learned about when we decided to purchase acreage was the local fence laws. In Missouri, where our acreage is, the law states that you own and are responsible for the upkeep of the half of the fence on the right as you face it from your land. Which means your adjoining neighbor is responsible for the half on the right as they face it from their land. Of course, if you have fences that are not adjoining a neighbor, you are responsible for those fences in their entirety.
General good manners apply. If your neighbor’s half of the fence has problems that affect your crop or livestock (for example), it is wise to be courteous and contact that neighbor and discuss an equitable solution. For example, when we purchased our initial 10 acres, the neighbor to the west already had fencing on their half but there was no fencing on our half. We contacted them to say we would be installing field fencing… there was nothing they needed to do. However, some of their portion of the fence had gaps which did not affect them, because they did not have livestock. We wanted all of our acreage to be fenced so as to keep our dogs in and other dogs out. Therefore, we offered to remove the gaps at our expense. It was beneficial to us. Did we have to do that? No. We could have insisted they repair the gaps. We were new neighbors trying to establish a good rapport.
The fence to the east of our new acreage was three (3) strands of barbed wire and had been installed in its entirety by that neighbor because he had horses that he wanted to keep on his land. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that fence from his perspective. But, for us, it was not sufficient and we wanted to avoid our dogs running after his horses and roaming at large. Once again, we opted to absorb the expense of upgrading that fence because the benefit was solely ours. We discussed with the neighbor what our needs were and what his needs were. We compromised and replaced the two (2) bottom strands of barbed wire with field fencing and restrung the top strand of barbed wire a bit above the field fencing. Could we have asked him to absorb the cost for his half, we could have, but again, we were new neighbors trying to establish a good rapport.
Luckily, the fence along the south edge of the acreage, while not in perfect shape, was fine for our needs and no repairs or replacement was needed at all.
Eventually, we purchased the house and acreage to the east of our initial acreage which meant that on the new eastern edge we had a different neighbor. The land on the other side of the fence was in CRP (a conservation program you can learn about easily with a bit of research) and the fence had been installed decades before by the owner of the property we purchased. The fact that it was in CRP was one of the factors in favor of our expanding to the acreage. The fence had problems in some places and we replaced and repaired it as needed without contacting the new neighbor. There was no benefit to there even being a fence for the neighbor.
Over the years, many trees came to maturity and even grew through the wire field fence with the strand of barbed wire above it. It became a living fence. It was beautiful and wild.
On the 2nd of January, 2018, we became aware of machinery to the east. At first we thought there was a road crew working on the gravel road and then we realized it was NOT; it was heavy duty construction equipment and the crews were demolishing the trees and brush in the CRP acreage.
In particular, there were excavators (also known as diggers) tearing out the trees on the neighbor’s side of the fence and not bothering to avoid the branches of the trees that were growing on our side of the fence. This tore many of our trees apart and some of them were uprooted entirely. Often this process damaged the fence as well.
They did not do this only to the neighbor’s half of the fence… this progressed along the entire fence line.
The hubby went to find out what was going on and I made my way to the closest excavator. Hubby found the owner overseeing the beginning of this project and spoke with him. I spoke to the crew member on the excavator. In this way we discovered that the CRP had ended December 31, 2017. That the neighbor had decided to put in a cattle operation on the land (as was his right to do so) and that meant clearing the land and, as it applied to us, the fence line.
Did it matter to the neighbor that we have livestock? That we could not move our cattle into that pasture because his crews were creating large holes in our fence? No. We had to make accommodations for HIM by rerouting the cattle through a different rotation of our other acreage.
What did they do with all that wood? They made several big piles and burned it. In high winds and throughout the nights. The ash covered everything and we watched closely to be sure the fires did not cross to our property.
What could we do? Nothing. Nothing except express our right to have the trees on our land not destroyed. Nothing except insist that the crews NOT damage our half of the fence.
I cannot express to you how angry I was that no consideration had been given to us, no notice that this was going to happen, no thought was being given to the future devastation that tearing limbs from mature trees can cause. We are likely to find many of those trees on our side of the fence dying over the next few years.
Promises were made that the crew would take care. Pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken. We are not fools. The hubby took photos and videos of both sides of the fence line every day. We would have proof if we needed to pursue this in the courts.
The hubby kept in contact with the neighbor. What kind of fence would he be using on his half? Would he be replacing the field fencing that was ripped out? The neighbor was surprised that we would ask that. He wanted to put in three (3) strands of barbed wire. The cheapest fencing possible. The hubby made good reasoning why it was to the neighbor’s benefit to replace the fence he ripped out with the same type: field fencing. Primarily, this would keep our dogs from being able to get through the fence and stop them from harassing his cattle. The neighbor grudgingly agreed.
One morning the hubby had a call from the neighbor to say that he was going to have the crew remove the brush so they could easily install the new fence. Soon after this a bulldozer came across the fence onto our land and tore out a mature Osage Orange tree – roots and all. It turns out that the neighbor’s idea of “brush” includes anything he doesn’t like. The hubby was out the door immediately and stopped the dozer operator from trespassing any more. He then got a hold of the neighbor and expressed his displeasure. The neighbor agreed to stop the crews from trespassing, that they would not take out any trees that we wanted left in place on our land. The hubby told the neighbor he would tag each tree with “caution tape”.
We were away for a few days (to attend my Dad’s funeral in Nebraska) and came back on February 3rd to discover that the crews DID leave the marked trees alone but used one of those shredders for clearing brush and small trees along the entire fence line. Damaging MORE limbs on our trees and several places on OUR half of the fence including some that the hubby had already repaired.
It was time to talk to a lawyer. I called the firm that I used to set up the farm as an LLC and told them everything that you have just read. I did not say who our neighbor is but the lawyer asked if I knew who they are and so I told him. Yes, the lawyer was very familiar with our neighbor and was upfront about how he had not only sued them on behalf of multiple clients, he had also worked with the neighbor on projects when both were employed by a local municipality.
My lawyer was amazed that the hubby had been able to speak directly to our neighbor, several times. He thought the best course of action would be for the hubby to continue to talk with the neighbor to resolve things without resorting to legal proceedings, if possible. It was entirely up to us, of course. He told me that the trespass was grounds for legal action and that specifically trespass with damage to mature trees is further grounds. He asked if we had before and after photos to prove the number of trees that had been damaged. (Which explains why we were not notified ahead of time that the neighbor would be clearing the fence line… we did not have before pictures from his side of the fence.) He asked if we had access to forestry experts who could provide values for the trees that were destroyed and/or damaged OR would be willing to pay for someone to look into that. He asked these questions to help us determine if the costs of going to court would outweigh any possible settlement.
I told the lawyer that we would be happy if the damage would simply stop. He reaffirmed his opinion that the hubby continuing to talk with the neighbor offered the best outcome in that case; and, if it did not, we could call him back to start proceedings. I thanked him, told him I appreciated his time and would be happy to compensate him for the time and advice. He did not think that necessary at this time.
Another call to the neighbor. Oh, no, he said, he was not aware of the new damage. He assured us that there would be no further clearing of the fence line. And as of this date (March 27, 2018), there has been no further activity.
Is the saga over? I certainly hope so.
Hunters and My Livestock (March 23, 2016)
I have avoided writing about hunting on this website. My personal opinion about hunting is that, when done with consideration by knowledgeable persons, it is beneficial. I suppose I should clarify what I mean...
To me "consideration" means:
- the hunt is a means to provide food for the hunter,
- the prey is not endangered and its numbers may, in fact, be too large for that area and in need of culling,
- the location allows for the hunt to take place without danger to anything else (property, animals, people).
What I mean by "knowledgeable persons" is those who have been instructed:
- in the proper use of their equipment,
- how to hunt their given prey,
- most importantly, in an understanding and practice of safety at all times.
I have no intention of ranting about gun control, for or against. My opinion is that for hunting (as in any endeavor), one should use the appropriate tool that does the job with utmost efficiency and the least adverse effects.
Why I am bringing up hunting now.
My little 20 acres of land are at the east end of a quarter section that was divided into several 5 and 10 acre lots, which is to say that all the land between mine and the road on the west have houses on them. The land to the east of mine has been in CRP (which is a conservation program) since the hubby and I purchased the original 10 acre lot I now refer to as PlayHaven West. I'll call the land to the east "the CRP" for the purposes of this writing.
I have not met the owner of the CRP, but I have met the very nice people who are living in the next house beyond the CRP and they are related to the owner.
I knew that they allow people to hunt on the CRP. Perhaps you will have read the story a couple of years ago about how there was a shooting party that scared my cattle causing me to change how I was opening their grass allotments during that time. At the time, I had expressed to everyone BUT the owner and neighbor how nice it would have been to be told ahead of time so the sound of multiple gun fire would not have caught us all off guard. In hindsight, I really SHOULD have contacted the owner. The trouble was I was angry and it is not smart for me to do anything while I am angry. Then, when I was no longer angry, I had no idea how to address the subject without sounding like a horrible neighbor especially since they stayed away from the fence line.
Since then, we occasionally hear gunshots and dogs barking, but it is distant and doesn't bother anyone (well, it always startles me). But, on February 26th I was in my office and heard several very loud reports that made me jump and look out the window to see one of the steers buck and take off at top speed away from the cattle's overwinter hay setup toward the pond (east to west) and even Fernie the bull who was lying by the pond jumped up. I looked in the direction of the hay and saw two (2) hunters walking toward my fence. Luckily, the rest of the cattle were eating grass at the south end of the pasture.
I raced downstairs, threw on a coat and my boots and headed outside where I yelled as loudly as I could to attract the hunters attention who were standing just on the other side of the fence by the hay looking (as it appeared to me) at the hay. They started walking away so I went as fast as my chubby little legs could carry me to intercept them. This time when I yelled (and I will admit that my language would have made many people blush) one of them turned around and with his dog on a tight leash headed back in my direction.
At my vulgar prompting, he told me they were hunting birds and that they had shot at one IN MY TREE LINE but, he assured me, they decided not to trespass to retrieve the bird. I told him the bird is not what concerns me, that it is my livestock that concerns me. That by firing into my tree line they could cause harm to my livestock through spooking them or even hitting them. I did not hold back and 'tore them new ones' as the saying goes. You don't want to be the verbal target of my anger.
"We have permission to hunt here" they whined. The second hunter had moved closer to support his partner. Perhaps so, but NOT to shoot into my field! They could not even tell me the name of the owner, all they knew was that the man who stocks the CRP with game birds gave them permission to hunt those birds. I told them I would be contacting the CRP owner and they said they were done hunting along my fenceline. (FYI - I never did see the bird they supposedly shot.)
My first course of action was to find out the legality of hunting on a CRP, especially when it is being stocked and hunted as a business venture. I needed to know where I stood legally so as not to make a complete fool of myself. I found conflicting information on-line in that the rules are different from one state to another. I decided to call the Farm Service Agency of the USDA in Higginsville and spoke with a very nice man. Still being in a state of agitation, and not wanting to take it out on him, I apologized up front for any unpleasant attitude on my part. I told him the story and he informed me (while commiserating with me) that yes, it is legal to hunt on a CRP in Missouri; even with the man stocking game birds on the land precisely for that purpose. We chatted for a time and he calmed me down. He agreed that I needed to tell the land owner because they would want to know that idiots were hunting on their land. After all, any damages they might cause would be the land owner's responsibility.
It took a few phone calls, but I finally spoke to the lovely woman who owns the land with her husband. I recounted the story I just told you admitting my vulgarity and anger freely. She appreciated that I called and was not happy to hear that there were idiots hunting on the land even if they did have permission. The responsibility for permission fell to the man who was stocking the CRP with game birds so she did not who these particular people were. She suggested I look for their vehicle to help in the determination, but by the time I was talking with her, they had left or had parked somewhere I could not see.
She understood my concern about how the birdshot could affect my cattle. Let me tell you my concerns as I told her.
- The sound of a distant gunshot does not startle the cattle, even the loud fireworks of our neighbor rarely startle the cattle; but a close up gunshot that sends the cattle running means panic. Panic means not looking where they are running and a gopher hole can mean a broken leg and an animal that has to be killed because of it.
- A not so obvious concern is birdshot might penentrate the hide of a cow and while not killing it outright can fester and cause infection that could kill the animal some time later without apparent reason.
- An even less obvious concern would be for the penetrating birdshot to not eventually kill the animal, but cause the meat to not pass inspection when processed.
So while my first concern is for my animal because I don't want any harm to befall them, my concern as a business person is the possible monetary loss. And since my steers belong to the people who own Cowpooling shares, it's not just me that the loss affects.
The lovely woman was very nice to me. Her family also raises cattle and she truly understands my predicament (or possible predicament, I should say). She apologized and promised to follow up on this with the game bird provider.
The following day, I had a visit from the game bird provider/hunt manager. He had heard from both the lovely lady and her relative (my neighbor) about the idiot hunters and came over to introduce himself and express his apologies. I found him to be very pleasant and while some of that could be attributed to trying to make me happy, we found we have similar attitudes on things such as energy efficiency, sustainable building, and the headache that is raising baby birds. Plus we have some mutual friends.
He assured me he would speak with the idiot hunters and make sure they are clear about the (excuse me if I express this inaccurately) caliber of their shot (the noise of the gunshot lead him to believe they were using shot that travels further than he allows), the area along the fence where they are NOT allowed to hunt, and not to fire into the fence/tree line. Basically, he will educate them.
He also offered me a 'free hunt' next year. As I understand it, that means he would donate the funds collected from a day when a group of people participating in a shooting party such as I described from a few years ago pay an amount per person (or was it per bird retrieved?) to PlayHaven Farm LLC. He said that he has raised as much as several thousand dollars at such an event. I did not give him an answer yet. I suppose I should jump at that... but I have reservations which are wholly my own issue relating to the points I made about hunting at the beginning of the article. Namely, they are game birds raised in captivity and released for the sole purpose of being shot. But is that any worse than my raising meatbirds? I think so. My meat chickens didn't have the panic of being hunted.
Oh, by the way, the hubby and I have seen a couple of game birds on the farm lately. It turns out they are probably from the game bird providers stock that escaped being shot. The picture is of one such lucky lady: a chukar. She made her way to our deck and it was lovely to see her fly away after I took the photos. Oddly, she came back later in the day. I haven't seen her since.