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Raising Miniature Cattle in Sprawl
BY PROFESSOR RICHARD GRADWOHL
We look out our windows at a sight we had not anticipated seeing for the next 100 years. The prime farmland in front of our property is full of bulldozers and back-hoes and an assortment of other digger type equipment. Lots of busy little workmen laying sewer, water and drainage pipes. How many homes? Over 300 at last count with more on the way. Lot size? Down to 4000 square foot postage stamp size. Homes are so close together that if you pass gas in your kitchen your neighbor in the next door living room can hear you and yells "Keep the noise down".
The developers claim they have no choice. The cost of land is so high it requires lot size must be small and the house square footage must be high. These homes are selling in the $250,000 - $450,000 dollar price range. A real buy from some people's point of view but a real rip-off from another perspective.
What's the quality of life in these high intensity developments? No privacy, no open space, no parks, no fun, no nothing. The kids' only place to play is in the street and the high traffic street is only 40 feet wide. With cars parked on both sides it allows for only one car to pass at one time. Tempers flare rather easily because the intensity of the environment creates a lot of stress. There is a lot of rage in our society and now a new one "sprawl rage". A good friend of mine Richard Bauman has this to say that applies here: "In the words of the great Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (5:8) 'Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth'. Good Counsel. Space between you and your neighbors is important. Just as research has proven rats that become crowded will soon quarrel, then kill each other, we now live in a "rage" society (another biblical prophecy): car rage, boat rage, airplane rage, shopping rage, innercity rage (now spreading to the suburbs!). Space diffuses rage. Some distance between you and your neighbors is good". Richard, I think you hit the nail on the head.
The kids climb over and cut through our fenced pasture because it's the only place for them to play. Of course this leads to many other problems. We had to hand deliver warning letters to all our new neighbors telling them we are not responsible for the safety of children who trespass. It is a blunt letter but according to our attorney, was necessary. It has to do with an attempt to mitigate your damages according to him. Here is the letter:
There have been children climbing through the fence trespassing into the dangerous pasture area to the north of this development. There are NO TRESPASSING signs and KEEP OUT signs and WARNING signs posted on the fence. Also there is an electric wire with ELECTRIC FENCE signs posted.
We will not be held responsible for any injury as a result of trespass into this pasture within which there are breeding bulls. You have been notified by signage and by this letter. Any trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If your children trespass you are responsible and you will be held liable. You are also liable for any pesticide drift onto our organic farm. Any damages we might suffer as a result of pesticide drift is your responsibility. This could amount to many thousands of dollars. You should have been previously notified by your real estate agent and/or builder and/or closing documents of these potential damages and dangers.
Another issue in raising miniature cattle in sprawl is the potential of pesticide drift. We have a friend that had a terrible experience. His farm is also next to a sprawl. One of his new neighbors put grass clippings over his fence thinking the cows would just love some fresh grass. The next morning our friend went out to find his six cows all dead in the pasture. The autopsies showed the cause of death to be pesticide poisoning.
City people who move to these sprawls just don't understand the hazards they can bring to an adjacent farm. They just don't think. It's not that they are stupid or want to cause problems they just don't know any better. They are all very nice people just like you and me but their background of life experiences doesn't include caring for animals or raising crops. Of course my friend sued his new neighbor for damages and recovered his financial loss, but he sure misses his cows. The following excerpt from a Washington State Department of Agriculture letter indicates a strict liability in cases of injury caused by pesticide drift. Most labels on bottles and cans you can buy at the hardware store have similar warnings.
Drift is the physical movement of particles or droplets through the air from the area where it is being applied to locations outside the targeted area. Under WAC 16-156-004(3), "Drift" is defined as the movement of prohibited substances by air, water or soil from the intended target and results in residues of prohibited substances on organic or transition to organic food in excess of 5% of the EPA tolerance level. Under RCW 15.86.100, organic crops that are subjected to drift may not be sold as organic. When an organic crop has been drifted upon, it results in the suspension of organic certification on the site affected by drift. The Washington State Supreme Court has applied the doctrine of Strict Liability in cases of injuries caused by pesticide drift. When drift occurs on an organic farm, the party causing the drift is held responsible for all damages associated with the drift, including the value of the crop if the crops are unmarketable.
The Washington State Legislature has also given us some protection from nuisance suits the purpose of which is to give farmers a bad time.
The legislature finds that agricultural activities conducted on farmland and forest practices in urbanizing areas are often subjected to nuisance lawsuits, and that such suits encourage and even force the premature removal of the lands from agricultural uses and timber production. It is therefore the purpose of RCW 7.48.300 through 7.48.310 and 7.48.905 to provide that agriculture activities conducted on farmland and forest practices be protected from nuisance suits.
The Washington State Legislature also provides some protection in our State Growth Management Act. This Act requires cities to develop appropriate regulations to protect those productive agricultural uses which the City has designated as having long-term commercial significance for agricultural production. The Growth Management Act requires that agricultural uses, having long-term commercial significance, must be protected.
The success of these measures for protection, although laws are dependent on those that apply them. In the case of Happy Mountain® Miniature Cattle Farm the cooperation of local authorities has been less than enthusiastic. It's been an uphill battle all the way. Most municipalities would rather see housing developments that augment their tax base than farmland that provides little tax base.
As neighbors tire of the mooing of our cattle they become many voices as compared to one. Will they find something to sue us for? Probably, and the difficulty is that their costs will be spread amongst many whereas to defend ourselves we only have one pocketbook. I have thought of a defense tactic. When someone complains about our cows mooing I am going to tie a heifer in heat next to their backyard (let me remind you that their backyard is only ten feet deep). A few feet away from the heifer I am going to tie a young anxious bull. You can imagine the all night bellowing of both animals. I will leave them there until I get a call "Crying Uncle". However long it takes.
To sum up, raising cattle in sprawl is getting extremely difficult if not impossible. We would sell but the tax penalty of selling the land would be undesirable. We have had a developer per month make offers on our land. We invite them in for coffee and donuts. We have gotten to be very friendly with some of them. They are nice people too. We are in the business of breeding, raising, and selling miniature cattle and it has been a very good business for us. I asked the developers if they would like to buy our business as well as the land. Of course they only want the land. Too bad, it's a package deal. If we did find a place to move to we would have to build a new house, a new barn, install all new fencing and so forth. At today's prices the cost of replacing what we already have would eat up whatever after tax profit we would make selling the land. Simply put, because of the tax structure and inflated prices of materials we wouldn't be better off than we are now.
I guess until we decide to get out of the miniature cattle business we will need to stay right where we are. I'm sixty-six years old right now and love what I'm doing. Maybe at ninety-six I might think about retiring. The truth of the matter is that my children will probably inherit the farm. The tax laws are such that they will inherit at the then existing value. If they sell, little or no taxes would be due on the sale. The problem with this scenario is that my kids love the miniature cattle business as much as I do. So would they be willing to sell? The fact that the IRS won't get as much when I'm gone gives me a great deal of pleasure. It is true that you can't take it with you but you do have a say in who gets it when you're gone.
Is our situation unusual? I don't think so. All across America farmland is being lost to development. Can you blame the farmers for selling? No! The hassle and pressure of raising crops or cattle next to sprawl is a real pain. Raising miniature cattle is a wonderful work in progress. We have actually developed several new breeds of miniature cattle. The Panda Cattle pictured is one of these new miniature cattle. We are exporting miniature cattle semen to third world countries at no cost to help their economies and food production. I was a college professor for thirty years, have been breeding and raising cattle for thirty-five years and will probably continue in the miniature cattle business for the next thirty years despite all the problems with sprawl, at least someplace.
If you have questions or comments about farming in sprawl or about miniature cattle please feel free to give me a call or e-mail. Phone: (253) 631-1911 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.