Cattle Guards offer effective and convenient livestock control

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Cattle guards: the most efficient means of containing livestock without a gate.

If you have traffic through your pasture or across your fence-line, you know how inconvenient a gate is especially if others need to use it. Not only that, but if someone were to leave the gate open or not latch it closed, you could be looking for and trying to track down your animals days later!

The cattle guard was created to allow vehicles to cross through a pasture fence-line without having to rely on opening and successfully closing a gate, however, they do not work with all animals. As we have pointed out in other blog posts, (Cattle Guards can be dangerous to some animals) they are not effective with dogs, goats, and sheep and can be especially dangerous to horses. The best and safest means for effectively containing these types of sure-footing animals is a simple gate.

The rounded rail creates two deterrents for cows and other livestock

Cattle Guard

1.   Physical Discomfort

:  Hoofed animals have a flat surface at the end of their legs to place their weight. This creates discomfort and a problem with balance when attempting to walk on an uneven surface. When placed on a rounded pipe, the hoof will rock forward or backward and create an unstable condition for the animal making it almost impossible for them to balance. If your livestock is brave enough to even attempt venturing a leg on, it will quickly discover how difficult it is to balance. This physical barrier is an extremely successful DETERRENT for many hoofed animals.

2.  Optical Barrier

:  The second barrier element that a round-finish cattle guard creates is mental; an optical barrier. Being color blind and having very poor depth perception, the shadows that are projected by the pipe between the rails, amplify the distance and depth between the pipes and will dissuade even the most stubborn or determined animals from thinking about crossing. There have been studies on ‘virtual’ barriers that are no more than lines painted on a road to create the same optical illusion as a cattle guard, but they have been shown to have limited success in keeping cows home.

Picture of a ‘Virtual Cattle Guard’ from Wikipedia:

Virtual Cattle Guard painted on the road

From Wikipedia

Deer:  Deer are another common animal that can be effectively deterred by guards.  They are such athletic creatures and can jump large distances with little effort that it requires a larger impassable distance to be created. To effectively discourage these extreme jumpers, you need to provide at least a 12′ barrier and more commonly a 16′ barrier to prevent them from attempting a jump across. This requires two 8′ guards to be bolted together to provide a sixteen-foot dimension in the direction of vehicle travel and an effective obstruction. I hope that a fence, tall enough to prevent jumping, be attached to the cattle guard as well.

 Cattle Guards are not effective for all animals

Some animals will not be deterred or have a problem crossing a guard. These are usually the non-hoofed variety with paws. Dogs, cats, coyotes, and others will have no trouble getting over the rounded pipes. Even small hoofed animals such as sheep and goats will usually be able to trot right across without much effort. Here, a gate is the most effective.

Not for Horses or bison

The second most requested use we see for these animal deterrents is for the control of horses. We do not recommend that they be used with horses as the horse anatomy has such a slender leg, that its hoof can slide down between the pipe until it reaches the bottom of the vault. This traps the leg and exposes it to breaking easily when struggling to get out and can prove to be devastating. Please use a gate when keeping your horses in a pasture as a cattle guard and a horse leg do not mix well at all.

Bison or buffalo, offer a challenge at the other end of the hoof size spectrum. Their hooves are so large, that if the surface pipes are not placed far enough apart, they can get them across the space span and create a stable bridge to balance on. It is not an easy task for them, but here too, a gate is recommended for these large animals.

Crossing Cattle Guards –  A concern for human traffic

Although designed to prevent livestock from crossing, these devices can also pose a dangerous predicament for humans, especially children. The average gap in the piping is usually 3-1/2″ to 4-1/2″ and can be difficult for the human foot to handle when not being especially careful. Because their feet are much smaller than an adult’s and they may not be as well-suited for balancing on a curved surface, it can be particularly hazardous for a child to cross. While it may be tempting to weld a small strip of metal or attach a board for people to cross, we would again recommend the use of a gate. Even the smallest strip can allow the more sure-footed hoofed animals an escape route out of your pasture.

Flat Top Cattle Guards – a smoother alternative

When used in high traffic, or high-speed areas, a flat-topped alternative can be used to provide a smoother ride for vehicles. Although not quite as effective a barrier as the round pipe finish, the flat tops allow for effective livestock control while providing a smoother ride for vehicles.

Cattle Guard on concrete foundation

The individual crossing pipes that create the top of the guard are a flat-topped hexagon that provides a smoother finish for cars and tractors to ride on. They allow easier traversing for human feet while still creating a deterrent for animals. Livestock are not as intimidated by this type of finish, but it can still be effective when properly installed.

Cattle guards are an efficient means of protecting and containing your livestock without the use of a gate. They can save considerable inconvenience and provide a reliable way of keeping your animals from harm while providing effortless crossings for vehicles.

See Barn World for all your livestock supplies and help with your cattle guard projects.

Related articles

Cattle Guard article from Working Ranch for Barn World


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