Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
You can be over the fence, on the fence, inside the fence, gazing through the fence or considering the fence, but one thing is clear: Good fences not only make good neighbors, but also are imperative to corralling horses, goats, cattle and other livestock on three acres or three thousand. Fences work well for enclosing chickens and coops from predators, as well as keeping vegetable and flower gardens from getting trampled by loose livestock. Planning the best fence for your needs is step one. An unplanned cattle or horse round up on a highway, in the center of town or on the neighbor’s land is neither a good way to spend your time nor endear the locals to you. Large livestock can decimate a few acres of garden vegetables in a matter of minutes, and it’s hard to put a price on someone else’s destroyed crops, landscaping or loss of your own livestock.
Texas is an open range state under common law. The Texas Supreme Court documented this in 1893: “It is the right of every owner of domestic animals in this state…to allow them to run large.” It was upheld in 1999 when the court ruled that “the owner of a horse had no duty to prevent the horse from roaming onto a farm-to-market road. Without such a duty, a livestock owner may not be held liable for injuries to a motorist who collides with the livestock on the roadway.” However, stock laws and a statute on federal and state highways provide two exceptions.
Stock laws can be enacted by local voters and may apply to all or part of a county. When such laws are in place, then open range becomes closed range, and landowners have a duty to prevent animals from leaving their land or ranch property. Additionally, the Texas Legislature has passed an exception to the open range rule for U.S. and state highways: “A person who owns or has responsibility for the control of a horse, mule, donkey, cow, bull, steer, hog, sheep, or goat may not knowingly permit the animal to traverse or roam at large, unattended, on the right-of-way of a highway.” Note this does not apply to farm-to-market roads.
Thus, if you are planning to buy or begin a cattle ranch, for example, be sure to check with the county for stock laws and understand that U.S. and state highways must be guarded against free-roaming livestock throughout Texas. In general, every fence provides a physical obstacle and a visual barrier. Be sure to plan enough gates for easy access.
Fencing is one of the most expensive aspects of livestock grazing or horse ranching, but once installed, minimal maintenance follows. The type of fence constructed greatly impacts the initial cost and upkeep efforts. The most common fencing for cattle is barbed wire, though high-tensile, with or without electric, is also an excellent choice. Five strands of barbed wire are recommended for cows. The history of barbed wire is another story, but just so you know, the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum has about 2,400 varieties. Goats, sheep and hogs usually have a woven wire component, as they can slip through plain wire fences, though might be repelled by electric high-tensile.
Wire fences are never recommended for horses. Tight, woven wire can be used with an electric wire on top to deter them from rubbing on the posts or the fence. It needs to be tightly woven to eliminate getting a hoof caught in it. Board fencing is the most expensive and attractive. Vinyl fences work great, and electric is sufficient and least expensive for your equine herd. Electric fencing is almost never harmful to livestock which can get caught, cut and hurt in barbed wire and large-spaced woven wire.
As fencing represents a significant investment on your Texas land or ranch, it warrants the time to think it through, talk to farmers and other land and ranch owners, look around the area, chat with fence professionals and cruise the Internet. It was precisely one century ago, 1914 in New Hampshire, when Robert Frost wrote Mending Wall which contained one of his most famous and applicable quotes: Good fences make good neighbors. Wherever you buy your land or ranch in Texas, you can design the right fence that serves your purposes, adds value, enhances livestock containment and makes you a really good neighbor.