In 1914, poet Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” This is still true today in Nebraska, where hundreds of miles of fence truly make it cattle country. However, some of those miles are not often traveled, and constantly monitoring and maintaining fences can be a large burden.
The very nature of fences–dividing two parcels of land used for different purposes or by different people–can inspire intense disputes over where and how they should be built and who should pay for them. To help alleviate some of the burden and diffuse disputes, Nebraska Cattlemen supported recent changes to the state’s fence law.
Fence obligations for different neighbor situations are explained in the April--May issue of the Nebraska Cattleman Magazine, which is now available online at www.nebraskaCattlemen.org.
There are two basic types of fence laws in the U.S.: “fence-in” and “fence-out.” The difference between them lies in who ostensibly benefits from a fence. The law generally requires the person benefiting from a fence to bear the burden of building and maintaining it.
In states with fence-in laws, livestock owners are liable for damage their animals cause while wandering onto others’ property. Livestock owners, therefore, benefit from fencing in their cows because the animals stay on their property. Thus, livestock owners are required to build and maintain the fences they benefit from.
Conversely, in states with fence-out laws, livestock owners are not liable for damage caused by their wandering animals. Thus, landowners who want to keep livestock off their property must maintain fences for that purpose.
Nebraska has traditionally been a fence-in state. For more than a century, disputes over fencing were solved by a group of three people who would determine how specific adjoining landowners would share costs for maintaining a fence. In 2007, that process was replaced; landowners now resolve disputes through lawsuits filed in county court or mediation.
In practice, neighboring landowners who both owned livestock usually split maintenance costs evenly. The easiest and most common method was the “right-hand rule,” under which each landowner would maintain the fence “to the right” of a specified center point (i.e., to each landowner’s right as he faced the other). But, in situations where only one neighbor owned livestock, the fence law produced less predictable results.
LB 667 was enacted and took effect in 2010. In essence, the bill amended Nebraska’s fence law to require neighboring landowners to share equally the cost of building and maintaining a four-wire barbed wire fence between their properties. Landowners can opt-out entirely and have no fence at all, or can choose a different division of costs or a different type of fence. But if they cannot agree, informally or through mediation, then a court will order them to split the cost of a barbed wire fence 50-50.
LB 667 significantly shifted the dynamics of fences disputes and livestock producers with neighbors that produce grain, have an acreage or is an absentee landowner can learn more about their obligations in the Nebraska Cattleman Magazine (www.nebraskacattlemen.org). In addition, the magazine includes these other features: Tried and True Reproductive Services, Wanted - Producers with Wetlands for Grazing Pilot Project, Nebraska Redrawing Legislative Lines, plus others.
The Nebraska Cattlemen association serves as the representative for the state’s beef cattle industry and represents professional cattle breeders, ranchers and feeders, as well as county and local cattlemen’s associations. Its headquarters are in Lincoln and a second office in Alliance serves cattlemen in western Nebraska.