Fulton County farmer Bill Schroeder recently told Ohio lawmakers it was “eye-opening” when he was threatened with jail time after his cattle somehow found their way out of their enclosure.
Speaking before a House committee, Schroeder said he had agreed to pay a fine for his escaped animals, although he never figured out how they got loose. But the judge warned that another violation within a year would land him in the county jail.
“To me an animal getting out from the pen like that could be like a dog running out of the house between your feet,” Schroeder said.
In another recent case, a Harrison County farmer was charged with a criminal violation when several dairy cows escaped their paddock.
“The farmer was unable to find any place within his fence line where the fence was compromised, cut or otherwise damaged. It appears the cows had quite simply got out,” said Beth Vanderkooi, OFBF director of state policy, who joined Schroeder in testimony to lawmakers.
But even if a fence is damaged due to natural disasters, weather or vandalism, farmers are still facing criminal charges for escaped animals after a series of recent court decisions changed the interpretation of Ohio’s “animals at large” statute.
Farmers could still be held civilly liable for damages if the animal gets out through a negligent act, but criminal penalties would only apply if the farmer acts in a reckless manner.
“Ohio’s livestock farmers have a strong interest in keeping their animals contained by their fences and other enclosures. However, sometimes situations out of their control can sometimes lead to an animal getting out,” Vanderkooi said.
Passage of H.B. 22 is a priority issue for OFBF.