A cattle grid (UK English) – also known as a stock grid in Australia; cattle guard in American English; and vehicle pass, Texas gate, or stock gap in the United States Southeast; or a cattle stop in New Zealand English – is a type of obstacle used to prevent livestock, such as sheep, cattle, pigs, horses, or mules from passing along a road or railway which penetrates the fencing surrounding an enclosed piece of land or border. It consists of a depression in the road covered by a transverse grid of bars or tubes, normally made of metal and firmly fixed to the ground on either side of the depression, such that the gaps between them are wide enough for an animal's legs to fall through, but sufficiently narrow not to impede a wheeled vehicle or human foot. This provides an effective barrier to animals without impeding wheeled vehicles, as the animals are reluctant to walk on the grates.
The modern cattle guard for roads used by automobiles is said to have been independently invented a number of times on the Great Plains of the United States around 1905–1915, before which it was preceded by a similar device for railroads at least as early as 1836, and before that a stone stile used in England for 2,000 years. An article in Texas Monthly claims that the "first recorded use of a cattle guard for nonrail traffic" occurred in 1881 in Archer County, Texas, on the stagecoach road between Archer City and Henrietta.
Cattle grids are usually installed on roads where they cross a fenceline, often at a boundary between public and private lands. They are an alternative to the erection of gates that would need to be opened and closed when a vehicle passed, and are common where roads cross open moorland, rangeland or common land maintained by grazing, but where segregation of fields is impractical. Cattle grids are also used when otherwise unfenced railways cross a fenceline. Cattle grids are seen throughout the world and are quite common in places such as Australia, the Scottish Highlands, or the National Parks of England and Wales. They are also common throughout the Western United States and Canada. In the United States, they are often used on BLM and Forest Service land, but are also used on paved roads and exit ramps of the Interstate Highway System in rural areas.
Almost all cattle guards are built around a grid. Most include a pit dug along a fence line, a base for the grid to rest on, and wings to connect the guard to the fence. Since many guards were or are home-made and to some degree idiosyncratic, a wide variety of designs have been tried in different places and at different times. Designs may vary with local conditions. Materials depend partly on what travels over the guards; grids that carry logging and mining trucks must be strong.
A study of the bars of traditional cattle guards in the Flint Hills of Kansas found that 80 percent were made of pipe, while smaller percentages were made of railroad rails, I-beams, bridge planking, and other materials. The size of the bars varied from 1.5 to 6.5 inches (3.8 to 16.5 cm); the spaces between bars varied from 1.75 to 8 inches (4.4 to 20.3 cm); the number of bars per grid varied from 4 to 22. Grids differed in length from 93 to 360 inches (240 to 910 cm) and in width from 40 to 120 inches (100 to 300 cm), while the pits beneath grids were 0 to 98 inches (0 to 249 cm) deep.
Cattle guards, the name used most often in United States, are known by a wide variety of other names in various parts of the world. In England and South Africa, they are cattle grids. Mato burro is the preferred name in Brazil and Venezuela, while guarda ganado is what they are called in Argentina. Alternatives in the United States include car crossing, auto gate, corduroy gate, stock gap, cattle pass, run-over, and many others. Canadians use pit gate, vehicle pass, and Texas gate, as well as cattle guard, which in Canada refers mainly to guards at railway lines.
Cattle guards made entirely or mostly of concrete have existed since the 1940s. Individual ranchers have often made their own, sometimes using plans developed in the 1940s. In the 21st century, a set of plans for do-it-yourself guards made of wood and concrete are available via the web site of the Missouri Alternatives Center at the University of Missouri in the United States. Commercial precast concrete versions are also available; Smith Cattleguard Company, based in Virginia, sold more than 15,000 of them between 1960 and 1980. Manufacturers also produce commercial polyethylene forms with reinforcing rods. Placed in or on the ground and filled, a finished cattle guard with 4,000-pound-per-square-inch (28 MPa) concrete reinforced with 5⁄8-inch (16 mm) fiberglass (GFRP) rebar can support vehicle loads of up to 32,000 pounds (15 t) per axle.
University Lands, which manages land and mineral interests for a foundation supporting the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems, publishes do-it-yourself manuals for three sizes of cattle guards with grids made of steel pipes. The manuals include schematic drawings as well as accompanying instructions. Commercial guards made of steel are also available from multiple companies.
Painted lines on the road can serve as skeuomorphs of cattle guards. The light-dark pattern of lines and pavement resembles a true cattle guard to animals, and they stop when they see one, just as if it were the real thing. Using a virtual cattle guard is initially cheaper than a true cattle guard, but the cost of periodic re-painting may eventually exceed the initial cost of a well-built metal guard. A particular advantage of painted guards is that they are smooth to drive over; in the United States, most are found on state or federal highways rather than private roads.
Why they work is unclear, but it is most likely related to their visual system. Experts say that "a cow's depth perception is such that it makes little or no distinction between painted stripes on a dark background and bars over a pit." Cattle may acquire the behavior of avoiding grids over pits either from individual experience or through imitation of other cattle. However, painted grids have been reported to work with semi-wild cattle with no prior exposure to virtual grids. Finally, an uncommon and largely unsupported guard-avoidance hypothesis is that cattle have a collective memory of the repeated actions of other cattle, past and present.
Cattle can sometimes defeat virtual guards. A rancher in Queensland, Australia, told a reporter that after some of his old bulls leaped a painted grid, the younger ones lost their fear of walking across. This is common; if one member of a herd discovers it can step safely on the lines, others will follow. Other incentives that lead cattle to test a virtual guard include placing food on the opposite side, or using strong driving pressure to run panicked cattle over a virtual grid.
Electric cattle guards use electricity to deter animals from crossing the fence line. There are different designs. One uses high-tensile wire run across the roadway, about 3 to 4 inches (76 to 102 mm) off the ground, attached to a power source on one side. The primary advantage is cost and ease of installation. Drawbacks include the necessity of spraying vegetation with herbicides to keep weeds from shorting out the grid if there is no barrier between the wires and the ground. Also, some low-riding vehicles can catch the wires and tear them out.
James F. Hoy in The Cattle Guard discusses four kinds of electric guards. One that was patented in Illinois in 1955 and another invented in New Zealand in 1979 are similar; each resemble "something like the framework of an old-fashioned metal bed" connected to a battery or high-powered fence charger. They are easy to drive across but may pose a danger to children or to animals that get stuck in the guard. Another type was patented in two versions by an Oregon inventor in 1956–57; it consisted of 20 current-carrying synthetic rubber strips mounted on a wooden frame. The invention proved highly effective in deterring all animals, including dogs, and it was maintenance free, easy to drive over, and safe. However, the company that acquired the manufacturing rights stopped production in 1960. A fourth type, homemade, consists of two sections of woven wire or steel plate laid on a concrete slab and set apart from one another on either side of a fence line. The wire sections are then connected to an electric fence or to a separate charger, either conventional or solar-powered.
Effectiveness on wildlife
Although cattle guards can be used to exclude deer and elk, they are not as effective as on cattle. Research has shown that deer can cross cattle guards with flat, as opposed to rounded bars. Sometimes a cattle guard is doubled to exclude these animals. A cattle guard requiring a horizontal leap of 14 feet (4.3 m) is considered effective when combined with a deer fence. Striping is also painted on roads as a visual deterrent to deer, as with "virtual" cattle guards.
Limitations and risks
While these barriers are usually effective for cattle, they can fail due to ingenious animals. Sheep searching for food have been known to roll over grids, jump across them, step carefully into the spaces or run along the side of grids as wide as 8 feet (2.4 m).
Wider grids are used where wildlife is to be contained. Some animals can jump across them, and a barrier that stops deer needs to be at least 16 feet (5 m) wide. Bison, and bulls in particular can easily jump across an 8-foot (2.4 m) barrier, and have been known to jump widths of up to 14 feet (4.3 m).
In areas with heavy snowfall and long periods without a thaw, snow can accumulate beneath a grid and allow animals to walk across.
Horses are particularly vulnerable to cattle guard injuries, as their single-toed hooves can easily slip between the bars and trap their legs in an easily-broken position.
Cattle guards are generally useless for containing goats. However, a Texas Highway Department official reported that adding three 20-inch (51 cm) painted stripes—arranged yellow, white, yellow—on the road in front of a cattle guard deterred goats from approaching or crossing the guard.
Patents and standards
There is a British Standard for cattle grids: BS4008:2006. The US standards are put forth by The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO provides load rating guidelines for cattle guards that are used on public roads in the United States. All cattle guards used on U.S. public roads must be certified by a qualified engineer that the guard meets AASHTO guidelines.
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- Hoy, pp. 117–18
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- Russell Link (Maine DFW), Rich Beausoleil and Rocky Spencer (Washington DFW) (2005), Wildlife-Human Issues: Living with Wildlife: Deer, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (adapted from Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link), retrieved 2016-05-23,
Some people consider cattle guards eyesores, but these ground-level installations provide the most effective protection for ungated driveways on properties that are otherwise fenced to keep deer out.
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Comparisons of other cattle guard studies show that when flat material is used instead of rounded for cross members, deer cross the guard.
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- Media related to Cattle grids at Wikimedia Commons