What Are The Virginia Livestock Fence Laws?

Posted by Dawn Lowndes on Wed, Jun 19, 2013

In Specifications, wooden fence

Virginia Livestock Laws govern fence requirements for horses, cattle, and other large farm animals. 

Livestock fencing is meant to restrict and restrain farm fencethe movement of animals across a particular boundary, but can benefit the landowner by protecting his interest with adherence to the laws and can increase property value. Livestock fence also marks boundary lines. More good news: the state, according to the Code of Virginia: Title 33.1; Chapter 1; Article 15: the Department of Transportation may be able the ones responsible for paying for part of your fence, if the fence line runs along a highway (defined as carrying over 50 vehicles per day): “...On gated roads carrying fifty or more vehicles per day, the Department of Transportation shall, upon the request of the local governing body and upon the recordation of a deed of gift or donation by such landowner of not less than forty-foot right-of-way, reimburse abutting landowners a sum equal to one dollar per foot of fencing which must be installed to keep cattle from entering the right-of-way from such abutting land... For purposes of this section, a 'gated' road is a road on which, prior to July 1, 1986, abutting landowners have maintained a gate or cattleguard.” Title 55; Chapter 18; Article 2: defines a lawful fence. A “lawful fence” must be five feet high; a barbed wire fence must be 42 inches high and consist of eight strands running horizontal and fixed tightly to posts placed, at the most, sixteen feet apart and with a brace (not technically a post) standing halfway between posts. If made from boards, they must be four feet high and must be at least five inches wide; board posts must be placed at eight foot intervals. In some instances, bodies of water such as the James River may be considered legal fenceline. For more information on above specifications, visit this LINK [http://asci.uvm.edu/equine/law/fence/va_fnc.htm].

 horse fence

Dispute may arise between neighbors on the issue of who is responsible for building the dividing fence. Only livestock farmers, not adjoining farmers or landowners who do not keep livestock, are responsible for constructing, maintaining, and preserving farm fencing. This is a relatively new law since the 2005 General Assembly session, which passed a bill that modified a previous law that required home/land owners adjacent to farm land to pay for all or part of a fence which would border farm land. Adjoining livestock farms and farmers will still need to share the cost of fencing with the adjoining livestock farms and farmers equally. For more information on the standing law, visit this site, “Virginia Law for Farmers and Landowners”:

http://www.sites.ext.vt.edu/newsletter-archive/fmu/2005-06/virginialaw.html 

So what kind of fence is best for protecting and enclosing your farm animals? The most popular style is ranch fence, which is a simple structure made of two, three, or four horizontal planks connected by sturdy posts. There is vinyl fence, which is available in ranch-style. Vinyl comes in many colors, but white is the most popular and has a “clean” look. Brown, black, and faux wood grain are also available.

Another form of plastic horse fencing is flexible polyethylene, which will flex or bend up to six inches, instead of breaking on impact. This type can withstand over 4,000 pounds of pressure (per rail). All types of vinyl fencing require little to no maintenance and last a long time. For all of these reasons, vinyl horse fence is clearly going to be more expensive than other options. Wood ranch fence is a more affordable option which is also aesthetically more rustic and authentic-looking. Sometimes wood ranch fence has additional cross-boards between two planks, forming an 'x' shape. Clearly, wood can be painted white, or any other color under the sun. The problem with wood is that is warps in the sun, requires periodic maintenance, and is affected by climate, temperature, weather, and insects.

Virginia Code also permits electric fences, given the fence controller meets certain minimum standards. New electric fence designs such as fixed-knot high tensile woven wire and high tensile electric fences are legal in Virginia and may be more affordable and just as effective than traditional ranch style fencing.