British Columbia

Dust-up over roaming cattle in northern B.C. spurs call for changes to the law

Good fences make good neighbours, but northern B.C. residents say the rules around who pays for those fences are outdated.

Artist Kaaren Soby fights a rule that requires her to keep wandering cattle out

Kaaren Soby lives near Telkwa, about 350 km west of Prince George in northern B.C., and says her neighbour's cattle wandered onto her property, causing damage. (Kaaren Soby)

A woman in northwest B.C. is challenging a law she calls antiquated and aggravating after a neighbour's cattle got loose, soiled her water source and damaged her property.

Telkwa-based artist Kaaren Soby says the damage from neighbouring cows was upsetting enough, but finding out she's responsible to pay for those damages is unacceptable. Soby says her neighbour paid $200 for a tent the cows crashed into even though she didn't have to under the law.

Kaaren Soby says cattle wrecked her $200 tent. The owner of the cattle voluntarily paid for the damages even though she isn't legally required to do so. (Kaaren Soby)

"She wrote me back and said, 'Well, we're not doing this again because the law says we don't have to,' " says Soby. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development says it's true that the laws around livestock say it's not the responsibility of cattle farmers to keep cows on their own property. Instead, it's the responsibility of others to build fences to keep cattle out. 

Soby won't accept that without a fight. "A lot of people, they're afraid to talk about it. I'm not afraid to talk," she says.

She's collecting signatures on a petition to get the law changed and gathering anecdotes from other neighbours who have also experienced unwelcome intrusions from cattle.

Not an isolated issue

Rancher Shelley Dyck lives southeast of Vanderhoof, about 100 km west of Prince George, with as many as 900 cattle on her farm, but even she was disillusioned by B.C.'s laws around roaming cattle after moving to the province from Alberta. 

"We had no idea that this was the way that things ran in B.C. because we never heard of such nonsense," she says. 

Dyck comes from Alberta where she says damage caused by wandering cattle is solved collaboratively by farmers on both sides of the fence. She moved to her B.C. farm thinking she had found a peaceful place to retire, but soon found out loose cattle are a nuisance when their owners aren't responsible for the damage they can cause.

A wandering cow peers into Soby's window as it grazes in her lawn. (Kaaren Soby)

On to greener pastures

Dyck has sold her property to a younger couple she hopes has more energy to either put up with wandering cattle or fight the laws around them. 

"I'm not scared of fighting, but I'm 62 years old. I wanted to get away somewhere peaceful," she said, adding that she'd stay and challenge the law, "if I was younger."

As Dyck leaves the area, she warns others.

"You know if you moved from the city and think you bought a nice, quiet little quarter in the middle of nowhere to get away peaceful and quiet, that's not the case. You're going to have cattle on top of you all summer."


Audrey McKinnon is a former host and reporter at CBC Radio. She currently lives in Prince George, B.C. where she works as a writer and artist.