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Fencing out the Wild West

by Debi Sporleder
WILD WILD WEST- Dick and Jane always wanted to live in what seemed like the romantic wild west and their dreams finally came true. They purchased land in the wide open spaces of scenic Colorado, and after finishing their beautiful home, they finished all the landscaping. Jane loved to garden and worked hard to build her new garden .
One day, as they pulled into their driveway after a grocery/supply trip to town, they both noticed at the same time – there were cows in their garden and everything was eaten to the ground. Only one lone corn stalk about 4’ tall remained standing. Their first thought was, how can we make the owners of the cows pay?
One thing Dick and Jane had not done was research fencing laws in Colorado – their loss could have been avoided if they had known about Colorado’s “fence-out” or “open range” statute. Basically it states that they need to fence out livestock or risk having their cabbage eaten!
The only way they could obtain any civil recourse for losses, according to COLORADO REVISED STATUTES TITLE 35. AGRICULTURE III – LIVESTOCK section 35-46-102 (1) is as follows. “Any person maintaining a lawful fence may recover damages for trespass and injury to grass, garden or vegetable products, or other crops from the owner of any livestock which break through that lawful fence.” The burden falls on the landowner to prove livestock broke through a “lawful” fence and didn’t enter through an open gate or a portion that may not have been fenced.
If a landowner can prove cattle have broken through a fence, it is lawful to take the wayward livestock into custody, but the local brand inspector and sheriff must be notified. If the critters are taken into custody, responsibility then lies on that individual to care for those critters until “bail” can be made.
When considering the statutes, it is similar to fencing laws inside city limits – you fence your yards to keep out stray dogs, keep neighbor children from coming into your yard or pool, or whatever. The same principle applies in the open range; it just requires more fencing!
Good neighbors are worth keeping and good fences make good neighbors.