Cattle guard. You know, those people who stand out in their field as hired guns, keeping watch over the herd. Right?

There are plenty of jokes that can be made about the term, especially for those who are unfamiliar with agriculture, farming, and ranching. But just because you may not know what it means, doesn’t make it a bad thing. Let’s explore.

steel cattle guard

What is a cattle guard?

Cattle, horses, and other livestock have a less detailed vision and have difficulty with depth perception. So, instead of putting gates at every road crossing in fencelines, we can use visual barriers that allow a vehicle to pass easily that will also keep animals from crossing. We usually find cattle guards where a road crosses a fence line on farms or ranches, on roads or highways in open range states, or in high-traffic corridors to prevent wildlife crossings.

Cattle guards are usually made of beams (made of steel or concrete, sometimes wood) crossing a narrow hole in the ground. The hole can be dug out or a ditch crossing. Some cattle guards are created by painting lines on the pavement. The goal is to create a visual barrier that prevents animals from stepping across the fence line.

Do cattle guards work?

The fence line barriers work most of the time, but not always. If cattle learn that the hole is not very deep or wide, they will learn how to cross or jump over the cattle guards.

Through the years, I’ve had several cattle learn to cross the cattle guard because, as the saying goes, the grass is greener on the other side. I captured this video of one cow who would jump the cattle guard every day to graze. All I’d have to do to get her back in the pasture was walk up and she’d jump back.

Sometimes the edges of the hole beneath the cattle guard will fill in with gravel or dirt from the road crossing. When this happens, we’d have to dig out the hole under the cattle guard crossing by hand or lift the guard with a tractor for a bigger effort. The Pioneer Woman documented cleaning out a cattle guard on her ranch.

Are cattle guards safe?

A cattle guard is safe for most people and livestock. For people, these are easy to walk over with patience. Vehicles can drive over a cattle guard safely. But it does pose a danger for livestock.

Reports occur of horses or cattle jumping over a cattle guard and getting stuck in the middle. Their legs can slip through the rails, which leaves them in a predicament. If livestock struggle too much, they can break a leg. But most often we can lift them to safety without harm.

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