The fencing and enclosures used to contain horses and livestock are essential not just for the well-being of the animals, but for the safety of the general public. The type of enclosures used at a farm, stable, or facility depends upon the number and type of animals that will be occupying the space, the size of the enclosure, and the surrounding terrain. In our forensic casework, we frequently see instances where horses and livestock have escaped from fenced enclosures, resulting in injuries and accidents when passing vehicles collide with the loose animal.
In this article, Equine Scientist and Animal Expert Dr. Tim Potter discusses how facility owners should assess their fencing requirements, the inspection and maintenance procedures that should be followed, and the elements of animal behavior that can drive a horse or cattle to flee.
Horse & Cattle Fencing - Expert Overview
Understanding animal behavior and the circumstances which direct the movement of animals is important when establishing criteria for fencing. Animals move about in pastures and land for various reasons: searching for feed, grass, and water; movement in response to hierarchy pressure within the group (dominant vs. submissive animals); movement with regards to breeding and non-breeding stages; responses to weather; and responses to the presence of other animals (predators).
A reasonable and prudent animal owner should be aware of the risks of mixing different kinds of animals (horses, cattle, other livestock), introducing new animals to a herd at night, or mixing stallions/bulls with females. These conditions can increase the likelihood for stress and agitation that may motivate animals to flee.
Fencing Requirements for Horses and Cattle
In terms of fencing requirements, different species have different needs. Horses are faster moving and have a greater jumping ability than cattle, so fence height and visibility is more important. Cattle are stronger and more likely to press up against a fence, which makes having a strong fence a priority. In addition, the size of the enclosure and the number of animals to be kept there should be considered when planning out pasture areas and choosing a fence type.
For both horses and cattle, the minimum height of a perimeter fence is typically 48-54 inches, but this can vary by state or locality. The minimum recommended height of a bottom rail or strand varies based on the fencing type and regional environmental factors, such as whether the fencing also needs to keep out unwanted animals like dogs and coyotes. The objective is to keep the animals enclosed safely and prevent against them escaping and injuring themselves, other animals, or wandering into the road and endangering motorists.
Types of Fencing
The needs of a facility may necessitate a mix of different fence types. Wood board fencing may be used for larger permanent pastures, for example, but the property may also have small temporary paddocks enclosed by electric tape. Each of these has their own maintenance requirements, and the average lifespan differs. It is the responsibility of the property owner (or lessee in the case of a lease agreement) to be aware of the maintenance requirements of the fencing on their property, and to carry out routine inspections to ensure that the fencing, gates, and other facilities are free from damage and working properly. The property owner/lessee should be aware of the fencing requirements in their state or jurisdiction, as well as the general, established industry best practices.
Common fencing types include:
- Wood board
- Vinyl – Includes post and rail, flexible vinyl, and vinyl coated wire.
- Wire mesh
- Barbed Wire
- High tensile
The gate(s) used on a fence should be of the same strength and height as the rest of the fence, and must be hung correctly and secured properly to prevent animals from pushing through the gate closure or through the space between the gate and the post.
Animal / Vehicle Collisions
We have investigated a multitude of cases where fencing was inadequate to an extent that animals were able to escape to a roadway and collide with a passing vehicle. Below are two examples of cases where a failure to provide and maintain adequate fencing was determined to be the cause of the collisions:
Case Example 1:
Four gates exist on a property between the animals and the road. Three are left open, and the gate closest to the animals is determined to be in poor repair. Therefore, failure to use a gate in good repair and close the other three gates allowed for the animal to leave the confines of the property. This created the dangerous condition of the animal being in the roadway and causing a collision with a moving vehicle.
Case Example 2:
A perimeter fence with just one strand of non-electric wire three feet off the ground resulted in animal(s) getting onto the road and causing a vehicle collision. In this example, it would be established that a reasonable and prudent animal owner should have known that a single strand fence would foreseeably result in one or more animals leaving the confines of the property.
Investigating Animal Facility Incidents
The experts at Robson Forensic are animal scientists and facility experts, with the education and experience to determine whether the standard of care for animal care and property maintenance was met in cases involving escaped horses and livestock, and animal/vehicle collisions. Our experts can approach these investigations from the perspectives of horse trainers, facilities owners, nutritional specialists, and more.
Submit an inquiry or contact animal scientist, Dr. Tim Potter to discuss your case and how Robson Forensic can assist.
Animal Scientist & Horse Expert
Dr. Tim Potter is an Equine Scientist with experience in both the academic and corporate sectors. His forensic casework centers upon the resolution of litigation involving areas of equine science. He is qualified to investigate feed formulation and production issues, as well as the management and use of feeds. His nutritional expertise applies to work in equine reproduction, studying the effects of nutrition, stress, and environmental factors on reproductive success. In addition to his professional and academic credentials, Dr. Potter is a lifelong horseman. He is often retained on investigations on horse behavior and potential abuse issues in training programs, as well as safety issues regarding lesson barns, horse shows and private facilities, and determines on-site person(s) of knowledge.