Protecting Your Dairy Operation from Unwanted Visitors: What Every Producer Should Know

With the growing number of unfounded animal abuse reports against local dairy producers, it’s important for dairy farmers to be diligent in protecting themselves and their land from unwanted visitors. In some cases, the activists are entering onto dairies without permission, and taking pictures of property to help tell the story they want people to believe about how dairies operate.  In order to best protect your operation against these unwanted visitors, there are a few things every dairy producer should know about trespass. In Oregon, trespass arises when someone enters onto the land of another and disturbs the owner’s exclusive possession. The entry can be either intentional or unintentional, and one cannot avoid trespass by claiming a mistake. Also, the entry doesn’t need to be onto land you own–lessees can allege trespass onto land they are renting.If you or your employees see someone trespassing onto your land, call law enforcement. If the person leaves before law enforcement arrives, be sure to take down a description of the person and their vehicle, including license plate numbers, and to note the exact location on your property where the person trespassed, so law enforcement can confirm the person was actually on your land. Law enforcement will want to confirm that the land in question is part of your property, so it is important to know your property boundaries. Although it is not always feasible or desirable, one easiest ways to delineate your land is to fence your property, and preferably place “No Trespassing” signs along the boundaries. This is especially important where your land borders a road or other public right of way. Otherwise, it is difficult for the police to know precisely where your property ends and someone else’s begins.

Additionally, it is advisable to train your employees to recognize and report trespassers. Make sure they know to whom to report the trespass—should they call law enforcement directly, or alert their supervisor? If trespassing is a frequent concern in your area, have a meeting to let employees know about the issue, and alert them to the procedures they should follow if someone is seen on the property. If one is on the land with permission, it is not considered trespass. Therefore, it is important to let employees know what to say if someone asks to come on the land, and who to ask for permission if someone wants to visit the property.

Next, you may want to check with your insurance provider to make sure your policy covers people who are injured on your land, even if they are there without your permission. In Oregon, property owners generally have a duty to trespassers not to place traps and hazards on their property. In some cases, the owner must also warn trespassers of the hazards if they are unlikely to be discovered by the trespasser and could cause serious injury or death.

Finally, it is important to protect your operation from unwanted attention, even if it doesn’t stem from a trespasser’s pictures. Many times, certain areas of an operation are visible from public areas such as roads or public lands. To this end, it is advisable to do what you can to make sure your operation looks well-maintained. If there are barns, fences, or pastures visible from public areas, try to put yourself in the activists shoes, and repair anything that could result in an unwanted photo opportunity.

Hopefully these tips are helpful to you and your operation. Be sure to contact your attorney for specific legal advice.

This article was written by Timothy J. Bernasek, an attorney at Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue, LLP.  Tim specializes in Agricultural Law, and is the current chair of the Oregon State Bar Agricultural Law section.

Legal disclaimer:
Nothing in this communication creates or is intended to create an attorney-client relationship with the recipient, constitutes the provision of legal advice, or creates any legal duty to the recipient. Persons seeking legal advice should first contact a member of the Dunn Carney Agricultural and Natural Resources Team with the understanding that any attorney-client relationship would be subsequently established by a written agreement with Dunn Carney. To maintain confidentiality, recipients should not forward any unsolicited information they deem to be confidential until after an attorney-client relationship has been established by written agreement.