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Recent changes have been made in Missouri fence law

July 30, 2017 at 5:00 a.m. | Updated July 26, 2017 at 5:28 p.m.

Missouri fence law is not the easiest part of the Missouri statutes. In fact, according to Joe Koenen, state fence law specialist with the extension service, about the only statutes more complicated are those involving cemeteries.

One of the reasons Missouri fence law is complicated is the existence of two separate Missouri fence laws. One applies to 95 counties, including Moniteau, while the other applies to the remaining 19 counties.

The change in the fence law, which applies to the 95 counties, is that in order to be responsible, a livestock owner has to be proven negligent. RsMO Statute 272.030 now reads, "If any horses, cattle or other stock shall break over or through any lawful fence, as defined in section 272.020, and by so doing obtain access to, or do trespass upon, the premises of another, the owner of such animal shall be liable for any damages sustained if the owner of the trespassing horses, cattle, or other stock was negligent."

Koenen said that the owner is not considered negligent - if the fences are in good order; if there is no problem bull, stallion, or other animal with a history of getting out; and if the owner has been feeding the livestock sufficiently.

He also said the property owner must fix water gap problems, after a storm for instance, in "a timely manner." Koenen said this is a gray area, because "in a timely manner" is not defined.

Another reason for the law being so complex is the different interpretations of the laws by different judges. This problem can only be resolved, if a sufficient number of cases are taken to a higher court, which has not happened.

According to Koenen, cases usually are not taken to a higher court, if the cost of the legal action is going to be higher than the cost of the fence.

Historically, Missouri had open range law in 1830 and 1840. About 1862, it became a closed fence state.

The difference is that when it was an open range state, a person wanting to raise crops had to fence out the livestock. When it became a closed fence state, the livestock had to be fenced in. The closed fence or closed range worked until 1871 except for livestock negligence.

In 1963, an optional fence and enclosure act (local option law) was passed. Under those statutes, a county could vote to increase rights of livestock owners.

There was no vote on the local option for years, then several counties voted in 2004. Most of the counties which have opted for the local option are in the north part of the state, near the Iowa border and in the West Plains area, and Cedar County approved becoming a local option county in 2015.

Other legislation which affects fences has been passed over the years. For example, until 2001 multiflora rose and railroad ties were a legal fence under Missouri fence law.

The owner must know whether the land is in a local option county or goes by the currently updated fence law.

In Central Missouri, the local option laws are not in effect. Koenen said a major problem in making a definite statement about much of Missouri fence law is that the statutes are subject to interpretation.

Questions on fences that are subject to interpretation include: what constitutes livestock, what is "reasonable," and what constitutes a legal fence. There are other questions, but those are enough to cause a landowner to think about hiring an attorney.

As far as what livestock might be, it seems that one horse or cow is considered the same as 200 horses or cows. However, most judges only will include those pieces of land which have livestock against the neighbor's fence at any time of the year.

The term "reasonable" may sound like it means something, but since there is no legal definition for what "reasonable" may mean, and that there may be considerable variation in costs of fences, "reasonable" becomes a very important word and it may be up to a judge to make the decision as to what is "reasonable."

Even a "legal fence" becomes problematic, since under the general fence law, the meaning of "legal fence" is a little vague. High tensile wire may qualify as a fence, but that depends on the judge. The local option law is at least clear on a legal fence-four-strand barbed wire-even if it is a little outdated.

Then, it becomes a question of who is responsible for building a fence. Is it the livestock owner or landowner? Under the general law, the livestock owner is responsible. In local option law counties, the landowner is responsible for building the fence. Under the general fence law, if land which hasn't had livestock on it changes hands, and the new owner puts livestock on the land, then the new owner is responsible for half the cost of the fence.


The revised general fence law starts at 272.010. The local option fence law begins at 272.210.

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