SIDNEY — A Norman Road farmer could face charges if goats kept at his farm continue to escape onto state property along Interstate 95.
The goats were spotted grazing along the interstate near mile marker 122 on both Sunday and Monday, according to local animal control officer Chris Martinez.
“The problem is that right now they’re a distraction,” Martinez said. “People are watching the goats when they should be watching the road.”
The farmer, Mark Gould, 61, said the state has the responsibility of maintaining a barbed-wire fence that separates his property from the road, and because the state is failing to fix broken areas of the fence, the goats are getting out.
Gould, who is also the chief wrangler for the Somerset Auction Co., a weekly livestock auction in Fairfield, keeps goats for himself seasonally, including many that he buys if they do not sell at auction.
He said the fence’s purpose is to protect the public year-round, keeping wildlife, farm animals and pedestrians off the interstate; but the state says that even if he uses the fence only seasonally, he has the responsibility to maintain it.
On Tuesday afternoon, about six black-and-white goats were grazing in the woods on the wrong side of the fence. Gould said the goats frequently cross, sometimes as many as two or three times per day from his 65-acre farm, full of rolling grassy hills and fields, to Interstate 95.
“I don’t know why they do it, except that they have nothing else to do all day,” said Gould, removing a board he had placed in front of a wide gap in the fence where the animals often escape and helping them get back to the right side. “It’s not like they don’t have food on this side.”
According to state law, a domestic animal cannot trespass on local, county or state roads or highway, private or state-owned property. If the violation takes place on three or more days within a one-week period, or five or more days within a 30-day period, the owner of the animal is subject to a fine.
Animal owners are responsible for maintaining a state-owned fence if they rely on it to keep their animals on their own property, said Matt Randall, agriculture compliance supervisor for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
“We have many farm operations, not just up and down the I-95 corridor but also in other places that abut other busy highways,” Randall said. “And while the state does put the fence up, farmers that use the other side of that fence opposite the highway do have to patch that up and maintain it. If not, it could be a financial loss to them, as well as a huge liability. When you have animals adjacent to a major road, it’s a recipe for disaster. Someone or some animal is going to be hurt and/or killed in these types of situations.”
In 2011, Gould was summoned on a charge of animal trespassing after several of his cows were seen grazing along the interstate. There were also reports at the time that his goats were grazing close to the highway. The charge was dismissed, although Gould did end up paying a $300 fine, according to court records.
The goats also were reported on the interstate on Friday afternoon, but Martinez said he was unable to get evidence to support the report.
Gould said that in the 29 years he has lived and farmed on the property, he has never had one of his animals get killed in traffic on the interstate.
“I think people are worried, but they don’t know goats,” he said. “If you don’t chase them, they won’t go anywhere. They’re just over there to get something to eat.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368