Everything You Need to Know About Cattle Grids

If you own cattle, chances are high that you’ve experienced the time-consuming task of wrangling them back into your property to avoid accidents, or to simply prevent random grazing. You’re probably familiar with cattle guards/cattle grids, but do you know the best way to add them to your property? Read on to learn everything you need to know about these ingenious contraptions, including popular designs, dimensions, and more.

So, what is a cattle grid?

Cattle grids, also known as cattle guards, are structures placed over a depression in the ground in order to prevent livestock from crossing an enclosed piece of land to another area. Cattle grids are typically placed between private and public lands. They are usually placed over roadways where a fence is not appropriate.

Whoever thought of the application of these grids was very smart indeed. The evenly spaced bars are close enough together that a car or even a person can walk across them, but wide enough apart that a cow cannot.


How and why are cattle guards used?

Cattle guards are often used where livestock may graze in open pastures and in between open fence lines. Cattle grids prevent livestock from crossing over property lines and keep them out of dangerous areas. They are a terrific alternative to cattle gates, which require management and maintenance. Who wants to worry about opening a shutting a gate — not to mention the upkeep needed for that — when they could install a cattle guard and be done with it?

What are the types of cattle grid design?

Flat Box Design

Flat, or standard, grids are almost always metal tubes or rods built around a grid. The components of the unit are as follows.

Piping. There are two types of piping to choose from: round and flat top. Both are traditionally mounted on concrete footings such as a bridge, which creates an open vaulted area underneath. The visual created by this structure is one of depth that animals are hesitant to cross. Though flat and round tops both contribute to the illusion of depth, round tops give flat-hoofed livestock unstable footing, and flat tops allow smoother driving.

Removable boxes. These boxes allow easier removal of debris from the area underneath the piping.

Cattle guard wings. These prevent your cattle from jumping the corner of the guard. Wings can be used with barbed wire fences, but using them with a more substantial fence is recommended. Having fencing along the entire width of the cattle guard prevents this. A full fence along the width is a more cost-effective option than cattle guard wings, but if your fence is barbed wire, wings are your best and safest option.

Boxed Design

Boxed cattle guards are constructed using regular flat cattle guards as their base. They have a steel skirt that is welded around the sides to prevent dirt from entering and clogging them. The guards are engineered to be placed on top of the ground without any footings or a vault. To complete the installation of a boxed cattle guard, a dirt ramp should be created on either side.

Because they are not installed in the ground, boxed cattle guards can move and shift over time. Therefore, they are a better choice for temporary use. Though these units are not installed in the ground, they are built to withstand the weight of a fully loaded tractor-trailer.

What are some examples of cattle guard plans?

Cattle guard rods are spaced far enough apart so that livestock’s feet could fall through, but close enough that human feet and vehicle wheels can cross them easily. Because cattle have an instinctive fear of falling and injuring themselves (especially their legs), creating any obstacle in their path will likely deter them from moving forward.

It’s important to note that the ditch or depression covered by the cattle guard should have a minimum height of 8 inches to deter animals from stepping all the way over and navigating to the other side successfully.

Cattle guard unit dimensions typically are 7 or 8 feet wide by a minimum of 8 feet long. They can be up to 24 feet long.


What materials are used in cattle guards?


One of the most popular kinds of cattle guards are ones made out of concrete. Usually reinforced with steel rods, concrete cattle guards are one of the best options for strength. Most farmers these days opt for this material to ensure vehicles can cross safely. A major advantage is that this material is highly resistant to the elements; however, one disadvantage to consider in a concrete cattle guard design is the weight, which could result in higher shipping costs. One popular way to reduce the total spend is to invest in concrete forms.


Steel is an excellent option, but it is generally more expensive. Modern cattle grids contain a combination of both concrete and steel. A steel cattle guard must be painted with or built from galvanized steel in order to operate correctly and survive changing weather.


Sending electricity through animals is one method to discourage them from crossing a fence. A bonus advantage is that predators are kept out. Most owners of livestock who go this route create homemade solutions, since they are more cost-effective and easier to install.

There are a variety of electric guard designs that could work. One such design uses high-tensile wire run across the roadway, about 3 to 4 inches (76 to 102 mm) off the ground, and attached to a power source on one side. Check out this DIY tutorial from the Noble Research Institute that shows how to build your own. Note that a disadvantage of using electric cattle guards is the risk of shock posed to people, pets, and vehicles.


Painting lines in an alternating dark/light pattern that resembles a cattle grid is initially a cost-effective approach, but repainting the lines over time may end up reaching the cost of a well-built metal cattle guard. It has been shown that though virtual guards have worked, there is no guarantee that the animals won’t learn to leap over or overcome their fears of walking across the image. Once one animal is able to cross, others follow.


Shopping for Cattle Grids

Your cattle and livestock are your investment, so doing what you can to protect them is in your best interest. Here is a brief checklist to go over when purchasing a cattle grid:

  • Is the one you’re considering of the highest quality for the longest life?

  • Does it have mechanisms to maintain quality, e.g. caps for the ends of the steel pipes in order to prevent rust and corrosion?

  • How much weight should the unit bear? Keep in mind the need to accommodate public highway vehicles, farm vehicles, and the total weight of your cattle.

When you purchase a high-quality cattle guard, you are investing in a unit that will need minimal maintenance and fulfill its purpose for decades. Hopefully this post has helped you weigh the options against your budget and business needs — and when you’re ready to start shopping for cattle grids, be sure to check out our offerings at Farm Ranch Store.

Richard WahlbergComment