How to Install a Cattle Guard

Every long-lasting building requires a solid foundation and a cattle guard installation is no different. It carries heavy loads with shifting weights and it’s extremely important that it’s installed on a proper foundation correctly.

We strongly recommend that a contractor familiar with the local site conditions be used for a proper installation. Typical site considerations include frost levels, drainage, type of soil, and even local building codes. All of these factors are important to take into account for a long-lasting trouble-free cattle guard crossing.

Generic Foundation Diagram

cattle guard foundation diagram

Excavation of the Vaulted Area

The vaulted, or dug-out area beneath the grid is key to providing the often overlooked optical barrier that dissuades livestock from even touching the top rails. Allowing the animal to view the bottom of the excavated area provides a conflicting depth perception created by the contrast with the top rail. This optical confusion (near and far at the same time) can be an effective visual deterrent all on its own.

Painted Guards

Studies have shown the illusion of a three-dimensional grate when painted across a roadway. and sometimes be effective at preventing crossing by itself. In the studies, cows were introduced to the fake barrier and almost all of them refused to cross initially. The trouble with the painted illusion was when one did eventually work up the courage to test the perceived barrier, it was able to walk over it without trouble. This then gave courage to the remaining livestock and they also soon followed.

The vaulted area is created by removing soil under the top rails to create a visual deterrent and allow debris to fall through. We typically recommend at least 6″ be dug below the bottom support beams as shown in the diagram. With a 12″ overall height, a depth of 18″ from the top rail to the bottom of the vault will be presented to the livestock. You may go deeper if desired, the important issue is that the foundations themselves are properly supported.

The vault also helps prevent debris from collecting between rails. If the vacant area beneath wasn’t there, dirt and debris would fill the area between the top rails, and the barrier would lose its effectiveness and become a livestock walkable bridge.

To help with drainage, the bottom of the vault should include a means of allowing water to drain away from the installation without disturbing the surrounding footings. Typically crushed gravel is used to create a french drain. Because every site is unique, a contractor familiar with the local conditions should be consulted.


Concrete footings are usually poured on site but we do also offer precast concrete cattle guard foundations that can be shipped right along with our flat rail cattle guards.

cattle guard on top of concrete foundations

The concrete is designed to fit pre-drilled holes in the guard so they can be bolted down upon arrival. Quick, easy, and convenient, they’re becoming a more popular option for sites that don’t want to pour their own.

Surface Installation with a Boxed Cattle Guard

Boxed cattle guards are set directly on the ground and are designed for low traffic, remote and temporary installations. The box is a steel skirt welded to the perimeter to keep dirt from getting in underneath. Dirt is pushed up on either side of the guard to create a ramp for crossing vehicles.

Boxed Cattle Guard

a boxed cattle guard

This design is popular in remote areas like cell phone towers and oil wells. They’re also used at construction site entrances as rumble strips, washouts for cleaning equipment, and keeping the entrance clear of mud.

Although they lay directly on the ground, site preparation and proper drainage are a must. A bed of crushed gravel can go a long way to removing excess water and keep if from eroding your cattle crossing.

Site Specific

Foundations are critical to keeping your livestock barrier in place and working effectively. They secure the guard from moving and transfer the passing load to the ground. The above recommendations should be considered and a local contractor consulted for a long-lasting installation.

If you have any questions or would like help planning your project, please visit or contact us anytime and we’ll be happy to assist.


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