Each Spring we get a lot of questions about the use and effectiveness of cattle guards. Whether it’s selecting the proper load rating, to what animals they truly work with, a few quick, concise answers can provide decades of convenience and security. Below is a quick outline of the various types, load ratings, benefits, and dangers to be aware of when using these effective livestock barriers.
It’s probably obvious, but cattle guards don’t require any effort to operate! Once installed, there isn’t anything to do except drive across them. On the other hand, the typical livestock gate requires quite the production to use. The routine is to drive up to the gate and stop, chase any animals away from the opening as possible, jump back in your vehicle and pull through to stop yet again. Now, quickly get out and close the gate behind you before any of your herd decides to escape.
This is a tedious process and all but impossible when there is a group of animals near the gate to manually operate the gate. Add a bit of weather or cold temperatures and it becomes a hassle. Frequently crossing a fence line with hay equipment, tractors with feed or deliveries almost necessitates a more convenient option than a manual gate.
If the logistics of operating a gate are tough for you to deal with, imagine how attentive others will be when crossing your fence line. If you have third parties that need access to your pasture, such as maintenance crews for cell phone towers, oil rigs, etc, they may not be as careful as you are when using them. They may even leave it open thinking they’ll be back before an animal notices it’s open or forgets to close it altogether. There’s nothing like having to find and chase down your cattle because someone forgot to close a gate!
A cattle guard will provide peace of mind knowing that it literally cannot be left open and your animals will always be safe, secure, and right where you left them. No sleepless nights wondering if a gate was left open and no more calls from the neighbors or police about wandering animals.
HOW A CATTLE GUARD WORKS
There are a few different cattle guard designs out there but they all rely on the ability to present unstable footing and depth perception as deterrents. The combination of the two creates a very effective livestock barrier!
– Walking on a rounded surface with a flat foot is a difficult task. Try it with a large hoof and an extremely rounded pipe and you will have a tough time balancing. Add 1,000 pounds to each leg and you have real trouble!
We’ve all stood on top of a small, rounded rock (imagine crossing a stream) and realized how difficult it is to balance on the small, rounded surface. This is still difficult even though our foot does have some flexibility in it to help grip the rock. That is the design and physical component that makes cattle grids so effective.
The round pipes that make up the top of the guard create an extremely difficult and physically uncomfortable footing for large-hoofed animals. Unable to get any kind of secure footing, they simply cannot put any weight on their leg for a place to stand. The rounded surface doesn’t allow them to gain any type of stable footing. This sensation is extremely uncomfortable, unpleasant and so physically demanding that they remember this strong deterrent in the future. This will help keep them from challenging the barrier in the future and most will shy away when it’s presented again. Although some will never test it or put a hoof on the first rail, those that do, don’t usually put weight on the first step and retreat to ‘safer pastures’.
The vaulted area dug under the guard creates a confusing and frightful illusion for cattle. They see the deep area under the guard and get the sensation that they can fall. This confuses and distorts their depth perception when approaching and usually creates the desire to turn around.
There are some studies out there where a roadway was painted to create an optical illusion of depth, like that seen with a traditional cattle guard, and almost all of the cattle that encountered it wouldn’t go across. It was just paint on flat pavement, but the illusion was enough to keep them from crossing.
TYPES OF CATTLE GUARDS
Most ‘Texas Gates‘ are constructed out of steel and finished in either a powder coat or directly applied enamel paint. In the rare case, they may be galvanized however that hot-dipping process does add substantial costs.
Concrete can also provide the same visual and physical deterrents to livestock that steel does. The nice thing about concrete is, that you can order forms and make your own. Simply drop in the re-bar, pour the concrete into the form, and removed it to install in place when ready. The concrete cattle guards do come with an HS20, 16 ton/axle rating and you may pour as many as you like with a single form.
Load Ratings – To install cattle guards in a public roadway, they must meet the HS-20 standards called out for by the Department of Transportation. They require a carrying capacity of at least 16 tons per axle. Below is a chart of the various load ratings and their capacities:
AASHTO Design Specifications
- H-15 (12 tons per axle)
- H-20 (16 tons per axle)
- U-54 (25 tons per axle)
- U-80 (30 tons per axle)
Most farms and ranches don’t need the DOT 16 ton per axle rate and will install the more economical private use cattle guards or go with the 12 ton per axle rating. They are much more economical and will still carry a fully loaded semi-truck but be sure to check with your local governing agencies before installing a cattle guard on your property. Some municipalities require specific ratings for government and emergency vehicles such as fire trucks that may need to access your property.
DANGERS OF CATTLE GUARDS
Although they work extremely well with cattle, they are not designed to prevent all animals were crossing. Small hoofed animals are quite agile and can balance easily on the rounded surface. The smaller ‘footprint’ allows them to balance quite easily so they don’t encounter the same unstable footing that is presented by a large hoof. Goats are a prime example, you won’t keep them in with a cattle grid.
Horses: A special note is needed here as we do not recommend cattle guards be used with horses. Their slender hooves can slide down in between the rails which exposes their long, slender legs to high leverage and possible breakage. During the panic to remove themselves, they will struggle and could easily break their leg in the effort. We highly recommend only traditional gates be used to contain horses.
Cattle guards provide an effective livestock barrier and a convenient method for vehicular traffic and equipment to cross fence lines while eliminating the risk of an open gate and a free herd of cattle. With proper installation, these gate-less entries can provide decades of containment for your largest groups of cattle.
If you have any questions or would like help selecting the proper cattle guard for your operation, please contact Barn World Livestock Supplies today and they’ll be happy to help!