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If you have farm animals on your homestead, farmette, ranch, or property, homesteading laws may require you to have warning signs. Here is a breakdown of:
The potential need for warning signs around a property is something that many landowners do not think of. Think back to when you were designing your property. “Warning signs” likely were not the first thing on your to-do list. Yet, here’s why many horse farm owners, etc., are inadvertently breaking the law by not having them. Here are some reasons why:
Google your state and “Equine Activity Statute Requirements” to check exactly what your state requires, or find our complete state-by-state checklist HERE (including wording requirements set out in each state.)
Of course, the purpose of these livestock warning signs is to limit the liability of the homesteader and protect people on your property. So, for example, let’s say you own private property and you have taken all necessary steps to limit your liability. You properly secure your homestead from people thinking they can just stop by and ride your horses or play with your sheep. In this case, warning signs likely aren’t necessary. More on this below.
Again, it’s important to think of the reasoning behind these rules when figuring out if you need warning signs on your property. So, for example:
You are likely legally required to have a (posted) warning sign.
You need to restrict access to certain areas of your property. According to modern day tort law in most states, if people come onto your property for any business-related purpose, you have a certain duty to keep them safe from harm. However, the liability around that duty is lessened if you have clearly outlined where people can and cannot go on your property.
Also ask yourself: is there a dangerous condition on your property, or an “attractive nuisance”? An “attractive nuisance” is what courts consider things like ponds, horses… things that would make children naturally curious about them and want to go play with them. If a child is injured in those types of scenarios, your liability for a negligence claim skyrockets. To avoid this, it is suggested that you construct fencing or other barriers around those “attractive nuisances.”
In all other instances, if you know that there is a dangerous area on the property, post a sign saying what the danger is and that the entrance is barred. For example “high voltage fencing; no trespassing allowed.”
If you have any animals (not just horses) on your property, it’s very important to check to see if you fall under your state’s laws requiring signage. Many times, this is precisely where I see farm owners inadvertently breaking the law!
Though these laws may be titled “Equine Activity Statutes,” in most states, they commonly require compliance for homesteading activities involving all sorts of farm animals and livestock.
For example, in Oklahoma, the statute is actually called the Oklahoma Livestock Activities Liability Limitation Act. This statute broadly encompasses “training, racing, showing, riding, or assisting in medical treatment of, or driving livestock, and any person assisting a participant, livestock activity sponsor or livestock professional.” It defines “livestock” as any cattle, bison, hog, sheep, goat, or equine livestock.
If you live in Oklahoma and let people come to your homestead to take pictures with your sheep, ride your horses, etc., you should technically have a warning sign posted on your property, according to the state statute.
Instead of spending your time trying to google the applicable statute in your area, feel free to just use this PDF we use at Fairway Stables™ which breaks down requirements state-by-state.
Knowing whether your horse farm or homestead is required to have warning signs is the first half of the battle. Making sure they’re in the legally correct wording and place on your property is the second.
So, where do warning signs need to be posted on a horse farm?
A horse farm or equestrian center is the easiest example of this, because, chances are, if you’ve ever ridden with a professional trainer, you’ve seen this information posted somewhere in the aisle way of the barn.
Remember, these signs serve functions such as preventing trespassing, keeping unauthorized personnel out of restricted areas, fulfilling your legal duty to warn visitors of potential dangers, fulfilling actual state requirements of state equine activity statutes, and in some cases, preventing injury and death. So, with that, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
Make the sign easily visible and impossible to miss. (Just think, if you were defending a lawsuit, you would want to be able to show the judge that the claimant walked right past the warning sign, and therefore, you should be protected from liability.)
With location in mind, make the sign easily visible in terms of size and design. Make it stand out in a size that anyone could read. Don’t get cutesy with the wording. Be blunt. Added graphics can also be helpful (such as an “attack dog” or a “high voltage” symbol.)
If you have any animals known to be dangerous, post a very prominent sign at the entrance of the property or the horse’s stall as applicable, informing people to stay away. For example, while it may seem obvious, if you have an animal like a bison on your wedding venue property, put an extra sign outside his gate telling guests not to enter the paddock.
A note on the wording of your warning signs: in some states, your state statute may lay out precisely what the warning sign should say. If not, don’t overthink it; it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Let people know to be cautious and that there are inherent risks involved in interacting with your livestock.
A good resource to find signs for your property is linked here.
NOTE: do not make the common mistake of just putting this “sign” or your state statute’s language on your website. That is not legally binding. These warning signs must be actual signs on your property.
Posting warning signs on your property is a quick and inexpensive step you can take to protect your property now and to potentially defend it in a lawsuit later. You can do a general google search online or go to your favorite local hardware store to find options. Alternatively, you could print your own at FedEX Office, etc.
Again, while this isn’t the fun side of running a homestead, this is what will help keep it safe–and thereby, protect it’s legacy. What’s more important than that?
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