Michigan fencing requirement for livestock: Part 1

Legal fencing requirements for livestock operations in Michigan.

The question often comes into Michigan State University Extension offices about fencing requirements for livestock production from “both sides of the fence”. Hopefully after reading this short article, you will better understand fencing requirements in Michigan for livestock producers and neighbors.

First, a bit of history is necessary to explain how we got here. In the mid-1800s, English Common Law was written requiring livestock containment on the owner’s property. Since those early days, case law or court decisions help set precedence regarding fencing law. These laws are designed to put the responsibility of livestock containment on the domestic livestock owner to prevent their animals from trespassing on neighboring property.

Many questions can arise between neighbors regarding fencing law such as boundary disagreements, legal fence requirements, maintenance responsibility, fence cost, etc. This article will address the current legal fencing requirement for Michigan. The second article in the series will address additional common questions regarding landowner responsibilities.

The Michigan Fencing Law of 1978 defines fence as fence “that is sufficient to restrict the movement of animals”. Animals are defined as cattle, horses, sheep, swine, mules, burrows or goats. Prior to 1978, fence was required to be a minimum of 52 inches. That specific requirement no longer exists in the current laws regarding fencing in Michigan.

When constructing fence, one should focus on building a durable, long-term perimeter fence. From a liability standpoint, it’s always better to construct a minimum of four wires that act as a physical barrier. This is a good investment especially for electric fencing systems so when the power is out, your livestock will likely stay inside your property lines. It’s always a good idea to consult with your local township and road commission to lean if there are ordinance or setback requirements prior to constructing any fence.

If you have additional questions about fencing requirement or construction questions, feel free to contact me at gouldk@msu.edu.

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