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Frequently Asked Questions: What is Maryland’s Fencing Law?

Cattle eating from apple tree in pasture image is by Daniel M. Hendricks
Cattle eating from apple tree in pasture image is by Daniel M. Hendricks

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Livestock ownership in Maryland often comes with increased issues of erecting and maintaining fences. Maryland follows the common law view on fences that it is the duty of the livestock owner to fence in the livestock. This “fenced-in” view prohibits unrestrained grazing and requires livestock owners to fence the livestock in. The fence-in rule places the burden of fence construction on the landowner with the grazing livestock. The fence-in rule can force one landowner to pay the costs of erecting a fence, but tradition in the area that allocates fence cost among neighboring landowners may change that view.

Maryland has adopted the traditional English common law rule of “fence-in.” The fence-in rule requires landowners to fence-in livestock to prevent livestock from damaging neighbors’ properties (Richardson v. Milburn, 1857). The common law requires the livestock owner to erect a division fence or fence separating two landowners. Landowners without livestock are not obligated to construct a fence.

Unlike other states, Maryland has no statute that requires the allocation of cost for a division fence, one built on the property line. However, in some areas of Maryland, there has been a customary practice that two livestock owners split costs for the maintenance and construction of a division fence. The problem with custom is that new owners may need to understand that the custom exists, and parties may want to consider using written agreements to determine how costs will be allocated. This agreement should outline how costs will be shared, the standard the fence’s condition will be measured by, a dispute resolution process, and other requirements for the construction and upkeep of the fence.

What would a livestock owner's liability be for livestock that escapes from fenced-in pastures? The answer is available in an online course that covers trespass liability, fencing laws, livestock liability, right-to-farm laws, estate planning, and agricultural leasing laws. The course is free and available online. Thank you to the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center for funding the course development. You can find details on the course and instructions on enrolling here.

This is material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2021‐70027‐34693.


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