Kansas Fence Law: We are not an open range

Stacey Campbell
Good fences make good neighbors. Tight fences keep the cows in, like these north of Pratt, and understanding fence laws saves landowners time and money in the long run.

Few topics in rural Kansas life are more filled with fact and fiction than Kansas Fence Law. Yes, we have a fence law in Kansas. We have had for a long time. It specifies who is and isn’t responsible for building and maintaining a fence and it even gives specifics on what qualifies for a legal fence including stone walls and hedge fences!
Kansas is considered a fence in state. In other words, we are not “open range." The owner of the livestock is responsible for keeping them “fenced in.” With that said, a public road MAY go through private property where the cattle are not restricted from access to the road, so be alert to this fact in the more rural areas of the state. In general, livestock are to be kept behind a fence.
Kansas law states that adjoining property owners are equally responsible for maintaining a fence, or as the statute is written, “in equal shares”. Unless the adjoining owners agree otherwise. Contrary to what many landowners practice, the right-hand or left-hand rule is convention, not statute. What this means is that where two properties adjoin, the two property owners are responsible for building or maintaining that fence. What often happens is that the two owners will agree that if they meet at the middle of the fence, each will take the half of the fence to the right or left. This works fine when the entire length of the fence is on fairly level land. However, if there is a big difference in the lay of the land (flat vs. hilly) then one property owner is being taken advantage of. For this reason, the law states that each owner is equally responsible so that the added cost of the adverse terrain is not wholly on just one owner. If a fence is along a county road though, the full cost of the fence is on the sole property owner. There is a special provision in the statutes however, that pertain to fences along state highways.
Most partition fences, as these are called, are constructed of barbed wire. What constitutes a legal barbed wire partition fence is actually far less than what most cattle producers would ever consider building! A legal barbed wire partition fence must be at least three wires. The third wire from the ground not less than 44 inches nor more than 48 inches from the ground; bottom wire must be between 18 and 24 inches from the gound; center wire must be equidistant between the upper and lower wires; all wires must be well stretched and barbed; barbs must average not more than 9 inches apart; all wires must be securely fastened to the posts. Posts must not be more than two rods apart (a rod is an old surveyor’s measurement and is 16.5 feet in length so two rods is 33 feet) and not less than 20 inches in the ground. There are even requirements of size of wire, but that is too complex to include here!
Occasionally the question comes up by owners of small rural residential properties if an adjoining property owner can force them to pay for half of the fence. The answer to that is a gray area. There is a provision in the law that states non-livestock owners who do not want their land enclosed cannot be forced to pay for an equal share of the partition fence. There are several conditions to that exception, it can get quite complex, and the statute has never been interpreted by an appellate court in Kansas. It might be beneficial in these situations that adjoining landowners share in the costs, if they can afford to do so, to maintain good neighborly relations.
Good fences do make good neighbors. However, make sure that you fully understand the fence law so that you are following legal statutes, not long standing tradition that may or may not be factual!
Stacy Campbell is an Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in the Cottonwood District. Contact him by e-mail at scampbel@ksu.edu, or by calling 785-628-9430.