|William E. Pinkston
Denton Law Firm
555 Jefferson Street
Paducah, KY 42001
Fences and Livestock
The speaker in the Robert Frost poem tells a story about meeting his neighbor every spring at the border between their two properties to repair any breaches that have occurred in the dividing fence. He says that no one knows how the gaps were made, but they have been made and need to be fixed. At least, the neighbor thinks the breaches need mending.
The speaker questions in his mind why they even need a wall between the two properties. After all, he says, referring to his neighbor, “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.” The neighbor responds by saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The speaker questions in his head, “Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it where there are cows? But here there are no cows.” He does not say this to the neighbor, but just continues helping to rebuild the wall.
Who could have guessed that when this poem was written more than 100 years ago, it would be relevant to Kentucky law and its application to a recent case?
Kentucky Law, Fences, and Cows
According to Kentucky revised statutes, Sections 256.30, if your stray livestock wanders across your poorly-maintained fence, you will have to pay for all the damage that the livestock does, whether it is “to trees, grass, grain, crops, cattle or land the other party may sustain from the trespassing of cattle over the division fence at the point at which the party failing was bound to keep in repair.”
In a recent case, a Plaintiff sued the Defendant for damages he suffered when Defendant’s adventurous bull allegedly broke through a damaged fence and impregnated Plaintiffs carefully bred cows meant for high-quality steaks. The Defendant claimed that as a result of the improper breeding, he had to abort some fetuses. This caused a delay in him being able to have the cows properly impregnated by a high-quality bull and, when the calves were born, they were somewhat underweight. He sought monetary damages for the delay in proper impregnation of his cattle. He also wanted the Plaintiff to erect a proper fence on the boundary of the two properties.
There were several other issues raised by both parties. For example, the Defendant alleged in a counterclaim that it was the problem of the Plaintiff. He is the one that failed to properly maintain a boundary fence. Plus, the Plaintiff had built a barbed wire fence on Defendant’s property, so it was his problem that the bull strayed onto his property. Additionally, the Defendant claimed that the Plaintiff’s cattle had come onto his property and damaged his gamma grass, and that Plaintiff had not properly disposed of a dead cow so that contaminants washed onto Defendant’s property during rainfall.
Both Plaintiff and Defendant disagreed about the exact location of where the fence should be, where fences had been in the past, and who was responsible for keeping the fence in good repair.
Final Outcome: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
The neighbors in this real case eventually settled their issues out of court with the help of mediation. They were able to agree on a boundary and the building of a fence.
It is doubtful that the two property owners patched up their differences so that they could, as in the Robert Frost poem, walk the boundary together and jointly repair the gaps in the fence. On the other hand, they were able to agree upon the proper boundary, the type of fence that will be built, and how it will be maintained.
The fence between these two properties will allow the neighbors to maintain their individuality as to the type of cows they raise, keep the cows on their own property, which will allow a certain quality to the relationship of the two neighbors. It is an example of how Robert Frost may have been right when he concluded his poem with, “Good fences make good neighbors.”