Rights of Landowners with Neighbor’s Trespassing Livestock.
The answer depends on whether this situation occurs in an open-range county or in one that has passed a stock law making it a closed range.
In an open-range county, the landowner is responsible for keeping livestock off his or her land by building an adequate fence. According to the Texas Supreme Court,“[i]t follows that one who desires to secure his lands against the encroachments of livestock running at large, either upon the open range or in an adjoining field or pasture, must throw around it an [enclosure] sufficient to prevent the entry of all ordinary animals of the class intended to be excluded. If he does not, the owner of animals that may encroach upon it will not be held liable for any damage that may result from such encroachment.” However, the defense that a landowner failed to maintain a suitable fence is likely unavailable in an action for trespass where it appears that the livestock owner intentionally allowed the livestock to enter the property. In an open-range county, if a landowner has built an adequate fence and livestock still get onto his or her property, the landowner can recover crop or property damages from the animal’s owner. On the other hand, if a landowner fails to build an adequate fence in an open-range county, he or she has no recourse against a livestock owner when animals enter his or her property.
In a county that has passed a stock law (making it a closed range), livestock owners must restrain their livestock by fencing them “in” their property. Allowing livestock (that are covered by the stock law) to run at large in a closed-range county is a violation of the law. Nevertheless, the grass does tend to be greener on the other side and livestock may get out on occasion. Understanding this, the Texas Supreme Court explained that sometimes, “animals may often escape without fault on the part of their owners, when the latter will be guilty of no offense against the law…the mere fact that an animal is at large is not necessarily a violation.” In most cases, the livestock that have escaped and entered your land are there by accident. Notifying your neighbor and helping him or her retrieve the livestock off your property is the best course of action. But, if the neighboring livestock owner has permitted the livestock to enter your property, depending on what the laws of your county are, he or she could be breaking the law. Because some counties do not have stock laws containing the “knowingly permit” or “permit” language when describing the intent of livestock owners, it is important to understand the law of your county.
In a closed-range county, a landowner may be able to recover damages from a livestock owner whose animals come onto the landowner’s property if the livestock owner failed to meet the requirements of the closed-range county. However, if the livestock owner met the requirements, and the livestock still got out, the landowner may be unable to seek recovery under the law.
Many Texas livestock producers lease the land they they run their livestock on. This presents a question of who is responsible for fencing the land the livestock run on–the landowner or the lessee? Absent an agreement allocating responsibility between the landowner and the lessee, these laws could apply to both the landowner and the lessee who runs the livestock on a ranch.
***This post is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.***