So often people move to the country and have a different perception from reality. The dog will happily stay on their acreage and the other critters – well how hard can it be to fence them right? Legal issues and neighborhood relationships depend on it.
Almost any agriculture or farm related internet board as well as many lists sooner or later the topic of new livestock owners and/or roaming dogs comes up. Equally on pet lists there’s tearful comments from someone whose dog was shot – it was only some chickens and the dog was only playing. The thing many don’t understand – there is no only there. Those chickens might have been the source of eggs for the family and playing or not the loose unsupervised dog killed them.
Several years ago a situation was ongoing where one family had a chow/heeler cross they allowed to roam. After threatening the goats many times, months of documentation, days on end calling animal control and many promises nothing was changing. The thing is the dog would go get his other loose and roaming buddies and they formed a pack. I was told I couldn’t shoot despite livestock laws because of other houses in the area…which meant it was up to animal control. They finally took the dog in and the family was supposed to have it put to sleep. So imagine my amazement when months later the dog comes out of the pen with two labs – where the trio just killed an expensive show goat, chased several others through the fence (resulting in aborted kids and injuries). It turns out the dog was not put to sleep – he was temporarily shipped off to relatives. The Saanen doeling had no chance – woven wire fences and my own confined dogs couldn’t help her. Once the dogs tore into the gate she was at their mercy. Any sympathy on my point wasn’t happening – 7 a.m I called animal control, told them the dogs were back and they better get out here before I find the owners. After more months of legal issues, a lawsuit, laws on the books to award damages and contacting the media the dog was put to sleep. No restitution was ever made.
The same area had wandering dogs grab a full sized horse by the neck; countless poultry and rabbits killed. Every neighbor had lost animals or had animals threatened by this dog and others. People move to the country and think their dogs need to roam – never getting it until too late that as an owner it’s up to them to protect their dog.
Dogs can do an incredible amount of damage. Sheep scarred in attacks have black streaks through their fleece if they live. Poultry isn’t usually killed to eat – dogs will kill one then drop it and run to the next one until no more are moving. It’s not a matter of fencing the birds in – it’s fencing dogs OUT. So when losses are suffered and the dog pays with his life – especially after warnings and months of hassles – the only one the owner has to blame is the one in the mirror. Another person told the story of neighbor dogs injuring and killing her cats, on her property.
Some cases go beyond dogs. People get livestock without being prepared for them. They string up some wire and call it a fence and deem it worthy of keeping the animals in. Goats can get out and wipe out a neighbor’s garden, get into and spoil feed in barns, damage vehicles and much more. A pair of horses can do incredible damage to a corn field. And in some cases the animal loses – ruminants loose on alfalfa at the wrong time can lead to bloat. Livestock can be hit by cars. They can destroy decorative flowers that some people move to the country to plant and enjoy. They can spread disease if other measures aren’t implemented – and when your goats or sheep bring soremouth or footrot onto a previously clean property you cannot even imagine the consequences.
In many areas loose livestock can be contained and held until damages are made. Some states even *threatening* livestock means dogs can be shot. Some areas losses are not just the animal but 2-3 times the cost of it. You can also be held liable for yards, crops and other damage your animals do. There’s also extenuating circumstances possible…it’s bad if your kids geldings get in the hay field. If your uncut 3 year old colt gets in with a herd of mares up the road and breeds mares or kills registered foals it can get expensive in a big hurry. If the cute little bull grows into a 1,600 pound walking terror most people don’t find it funny to be around a belligerant animal. The damages for loose stallions, bulls, boars, rams etc can be much more. As they can be more to handle and fence it’s a good reason why many say don’t leave them able to breed. Most owners new to livestock simply aren’t ready for it.
The neighboring farmer with a registered champion show heifer is not going to be amused when he walks out to see your angus-shorthorn-hereford-limousin bull who was just-too-cute-to-steer breeding her. While it may or may not be a hobby for you, it often is not games to someone who seriously depends on farming income. I recall a neighbor when I was a kid that had a field full of horses and ponies. When they’d get loose it was a sight – and when that sight meant 60 head of ponies decimating an alfalfa field needed to feed our purebred cattle through the winter it got to be a neighborhood battle in a big hurry. When some hogs turned up tearing up the yard and crops they were confined in the barn and a search for the owners was on. No one would claim them either because they were dumped (not likely) or because no one wanted the liability for damages. As it happened, our family had a half dozen pigs for the freezer which in that case made up for the small amount of damage they did before being corralled.
Most people in the country do understand things happen. Animals get out, kids leave a gate open, cars drive through fences in the middle of the night. That can often be settled easier with profuse apologies, offering to pay for any crops or damages done and – most important – making sure it doesn’t happen again. But it’s a promise no matter where you are at the lady who has chased your goats from her chicken pen and garden for the 14th day in a row is going to be a whole lot less happy to deal with. Do not ever count on livestock to recognize property lines and “we’ll let them out to graze and watch them”. Putting up good fences and proper housing should be done before getting that first animal. If you have the idea you might get some animals and aren’t sure what kind to put on that 4 acres out back do yourself a favor. Put up a good woven wire fence with a hotwire on the top and near the bottom that’s HOT. Use good posts and put it up right. With a good fence it doesn’t matter if you put a horse in it, a couple calves or a dozen goats – woven wire will keep them in. The hot wire on the top keeps horses and cattle from reaching over, discourages goats from standing on the fence and reaching over (making your fence last longer) and the wire at the bottom keeps smaller ones from going under as well as helps deter those roaming dogs which now *YOU* will be complaining about! I’ve not known anyone who has poultry or small livestock that didn’t suddenly become a magnet for roaming dogs.
Keep your own animals safe, secured in their property, fed and watered so they don’t WANT to go anywhere else and out of neighboring farms. Keep dogs home. Talk to your neighbors and be reasonable in dealings with them. Being nasty today can come back on you if your dog kills their chicken next week because the kids didn’t shut the front gate.
The country is a wonderful place to be and part of that often involves keeping animals. Keep fences maintained and know the laws and penalties if your animals do damage or if someone else’s animals damage your property.