"Have you gone and put the stock sign past the woolshed?"
"Sorry, forgot I did. I put one out at this end, but not at the other end." "Okay, it will be all right."
Conversations like this occur on a daily basis on farms throughout our region. Most farmers would see the common sense in notifying motorists that they are moving stock on the road.
However, a recent High Court decision highlights the importance of proper procedures when moving stock and/or keeping stock in paddocks next to roads.
In 2014 a truck and trailer travelling south towards Raetihi collided with 17 angus cattle from the neighbouring farm.
The driver was uninjured, but the extensive damage to the truck and trailer totalled about $273,000.
The company that owned the truck and trailer sued the farmer for a breach of his duty to ensure the cattle were adequately fenced off and secured.
At issue was the reasonableness of precautions taken by the farmer to prevent the stock straying on the road. What was reasonable was to be assessed according to the common practice in that region.
The plaintiffs argued that because the gates did not have a gudgeon, the farmer for sake of ease simply left a tape across the gateway.
The farmer disputed this and said he had a hotwire and the gate was wired shut.
However, on the evidence, the court preferred the truck owner's evidence that the gate was secured only by a string of hotwire.
On this basis the court found that the farmer had not taken all reasonable care to secure his livestock.
He was found liable for the full cost of damage to the truck and trailer. Luckily he had a comprehensive public liability insurance and the insurer who was to pay.
This case underlines the importance of following the recommended procedure for moving stock on a road and keeping animals near a road.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand Inc recommends the following:
1. Ensure road cones and/or stock warning signs are in place so motorists have enough time to stop. The NZTA says signs should be visible at a distance that is three times the speed limit (therefore most likely to be 300m).
2. If moving a mob down a road, there has to be a front and back stockperson who preferably t can communicate with each other via telephone or walkie-talkie.
3. No stock is to be moved at night time or when visibility is less than 100m.
4. Stock is to be kept moving at all times.
Farmers should also be aware that subsidies are available for those who want to install underpasses under roads where they are moving stock over the same piece of road daily.
It has been common practice for many years to graze the roadside using a hotwire, especially in winter before spring growth comes in.
The case discussed above demonstrates that a hotwire is not enough and farmers should bear this in mind when using one.
Moving stock along and across roads is subject to a range of guidelines and bylaws, District Plan requirements and common law duties. If you have any questions about your legal liability, you should consult with your council and your solicitors.