Running a few head of livestock is one of the reasons we choose to live on a lifestyle block. But that brings with it a responsibility as well as a potential liability - you can be liable for any damage caused by your livestock if they get out, or if they make it onto the road. More often than not they'll get out when feed is tight, you're pushing them harder, and the grass over the fence/at the neighbours/on the verge is more appealing than where they're supposed to be grazing. And if they get on the road, chances are the first car they encounter is a townie who doesn't have a clue what to do when they meet stock on the road …
Stock on the road can be a nightmare. I've been behind another car when it hit a black bull on a country road at night at 100kmh. It wasn't pretty, and the driver was very lucky to survive the crash. Where the owner hasn't taken sufficient care to prevent stock wandering or warn road users of the likely presence of stock, under the Animal Law Reform Act 1989 they may be held liable for any damage caused by wandering stock. Stock found wandering on a road may be impounded or returned to the owner, in some areas where there is an ongoing problem and a risk to the motoring public, animal control officers may even shoot wandering cattle and horses - it happens all too regularly in Northland.
As the owner of wandering stock you may be held accountable for the cost of damage to a vehicle that hits them - in 2009 a Gisborne man won a Disputes Tribunal case against a farmer and was awarded more than $5000 after his car was written off when he hit a calf on the road.
If your animals get into a neighbour's property they may also be able to claim damages from you as outlined in the Impounding Act 1955. The Act provides that they can recover damages if their land is adequately fenced to keep out stock (as opposed to yours being fenced to keep them in), or if any lack of fencing was not a contributory cause to the trespass. Apart from any cost to remedy damage, there's also the grief and friction between neighbours that your wandering animals will cause.
So what can you do? It's basic common sense really:
- Keep your boundary fences in good repair.
- Add a hot wire on outriggers or offsets to further stock proof fences.
- Fit stock proof latches to gates, or if you don't want to replace gate latches, secure them with baling twine or wire.
- Secure gates at the hinge end with long pin or reverse the bottom gudgeon so stock can't rub the gates off the hinges.
- If you've got an animal that's a persistent escapee - don't be sentimental, send it to the works, or homekill it for the freezer.
- Communicate with your neighbours about where bulls, rams, stallions etc will be grazing. Even if you think they're dickheads or your relations with them are frosty or less than cordial - rise above it and make the effort to communicate, the animals don't deserve to get caught in the middle.
- If you're going to be away, keep stock another paddock back from the road - two fences are better than one. Make sure they've got enough feed and water.
- Get your neighbour to keep an eye on your stock while you're away.
- If you're going to graze the 'long acre', don't push the cattle hard, use electric strip fencing, make sure your electric tape has current on it, and bring them in at night.
- Lifestyle property owners should carry Public Liability Cover as part of their insurance and consider whether Moral Obligation Cover might also be a good idea (it covers you for things like your bull hopping the fence to get in with the neighbour's heifers, and the vet having to come out and terminate the pregnancies). If you're not sure about your cover - talk to your insurer now.
If you see wandering stock on the road, don't drive round them thinking someone else can deal with it, make an effort - even if it's only to find a local and let them know about it.