Horse & Law Issue 12: Roaming Livestock

5 July 2015

Roaming livestock on our roads can be fatal. Sadly, Waikato families have experienced this first hand in 2014 and the spotlight has turned on livestock owners to ensure the integrity of their fences and gates.  This year has seen two separate collisions where wandering horses caused serious injury and death to drivers of vehicles. But it doesn’t stop there, stock owners can be liable for damage they cause.

Land owners and land occupiers must adequately fence property adjoining roadsides.  Initially, ensuring the integrity and adequacy of fences adjoining highways is a duty found in common law.

Care must be taken to ensure the fence is suitable for the type of livestock on your land. It is well known that horses and cattle can jump fence height and some animals can open gate latches, so care must be taken to avoid stock escaping by any means.

If you have not taken reasonable measures to ensure that livestock are enclosed adequately you may be found to be negligent in allowing stock the ability to escape. Where stock escape and cause nuisance, further preventative measures must be taken by you to avoid a repeated escape, even if this is a costly exercise.

For example, if your stock escapes a three wire electrified fence it is deemed reasonable that you provide more adequate fencing such as a seven wire post and batten electrified fence. Where gates are concerned, the Courts have ruled that a wire loop around the post and gate is not a sufficient measure to keep a gate securely closed.  Measures must also be taken to warn road users of potential wandering stock and to comply with local area practice for containing stock.

In the event that stock escape and damage is caused, owners of the stock can be liable for damage caused.  This includes damage to crops and property. You could also potentially be liable for grazing costs, advertising, any necessary vet treatment and poundage fees. If stock wander on to your property and you are aware of where the stock has come from, in certain circumstances the stock can be impounded by you. However, if this is the case you must feed and care for the stock on your property and notice must be given to the stock owner within 24 hours. Notice can be given in person or in writing. The owner of the stock must then pay trespass rates as set by the Impounding Act 1955. If you are not aware of the owner of the stock or the stock remains unclaimed for 48 hours, arrangements must be made to drove stock to the council’s pound and advise animal control staff (you will also be liable for animal control officer’s time and mileage).

Owners of wandering stock can also face criminal liability under the Crimes Act 1961. If a land owner or occupier fails to take necessary steps to ensure their livestock remain adequately fenced in, they will be at risk of endangering the safety or health of the public (especially road users). If their stock causes a crash and negligence is proven, they may be prosecuted.

Land owners and occupiers must be extra vigilant to ensure that their stock are not straying and should be aware of past hard line policies of Councils to destroy wandering stock on roads. There are of course instances where vandalism and car crashes compromise fences but vigilance must extend to persistent monitoring of your property. Do not leave it until it is too late.



The Norris Ward McKinnon Equine Team endeavors to write articles that are beneficial to you whatever your involvement with equine.  Please submit topics about equine matters you would like more information on so that we may write pieces useful to you. You can email topics or questions to Alice Nunn.