Good fences make good neighbors

By Carol / February 27, 2012 /

We have new neighbors and we’re delighted. Like the previous folks, the new owners are horse people. Watching the horses out my kitchen window is one of my great pleasures.

One morning, one of the horses took to vigorously scratching its neck against a fence posts. The fence was none too sturdy in the first place and I wasn’t at all certain it would stand up against this assault. When I mentioned it, my husband commented, “I hope their fence doesn’t become our problem.”

Growing up on a farm, I can remember my dad talking with neighbors about repairing boundary line fences. As was the custom, the farmers faced each other across the fence. Each farmer took responsibility for the half of the fence to his right. I viewed this as quite a neighborly custom. ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ everyone said. Robert Frost included that famous line in his poem “Mending Wall.”

It wasn’t until this past week, because of a dispute that made the Des Moines Register, that I learned my dad and our neighbors were following the law. In 1851, shortly after Iowa became a state, when the enterprise of the vast majority of the state was agriculture involving both livestock and crops, the Iowa legislature passed a law that made those on both sides of a fence responsible for installing and maintaining the fence line.

As more farmers turn solely to crops and as more town people acquire acreages that abut livestock farms, the attitudes toward fences and who should pay for their upkeep changes.

We love to see the horses in their pasture, but not on our lawn or in our garden. We understand that good fences make good neighbors. And we certainly benefit when our neighbors keep their horses contained, but would we be willing to help pay to make that happen?  

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