Cattle Guards for Multi-Use Public Lands

The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is a federal agency that administers nearly 18,000 permits and leases held by ranchers who graze livestock on public lands. We are talking about approximately 245 million acres of public lands, with livestock grazing on 155 million acres of those lands, as guided by Federal law.

This tells you that there are a lot of cattle on public lands, the same lands that might be also used by hikers, bikers, four-wheelers, motor bikes, and ATMs. Many public lands have popular trails or trail systems.

Where there are off-highway vehicle trails and cattle in the area, the use of cattle guards becomes a necessity. There are various factors to consider when choosing the most appropriate cattle guards for these situations.

When choosing a design for a public land cattle guard, consider the psychology of ATV and Four-wheel drivers who are out for fun. Let’s admit it, traveling fast is part of the thrill for many off-highway vehicle (OHV) users.

However, most users will slow down if they perceive any kind of danger or hazard ahead. Use this to your advantage in your cattle guard selection and placement.

Some advice from the Federal Highway Administration:

“Keeping the cattle guard narrow is probably the best way to convince users to slow down. If they think it will be a challenge to get across the cattle guard without mashing their fingers or scraping their machines, they will usually slow down. For ATV users especially, a cattle guard only slightly wider than their machine means they will voluntarily slow down to avoid hitting the sides. A narrow cattle guard blocks vehicles wider than those allowed on the trail.

“So how wide is wide enough? This is a tricky question, because ATV’s seem to be getting

wider each year. In some cases the width of a large ATV differs little from a small four-wheel-drive vehicle. The width of the cattle guards described in this report range from 4 feet (1.2 m) to 5 feet (1.5 m). Cattle guard widths of 52 to 60 inches (1.3 to 1.5 m) will allow most new ATV’s to cross-just barely. Build them wider and you risk indiscriminate use by four-wheel-drive vehicles, which may not be allowed in your management plans. They are also too heavy to be supported by the cattle guards. Four-wheel drives will damage cattle guards, and their owners may claim damages if their vehicles are harmed.”


Some general advice for the installation of cattle guards on federal/public lands:

1. The wings of the cattle guard should be angled from top to bottom, with the widest part at the top. This configuration allows riders, especially on motorbikes, a little extra margin for error to avoid catching their handlebars on the fence posts.

2. If controlling vehicle speed is not an issue, consider using the flat Deschutes Cattle Guard instead of elevated designs. The flat design helps to avoid sudden loss of control by the motorbiker or ATVer, that can be caused by a change in elevation.

3. A trail cattle guard meeting these specifications is a good choice:

o Length from 5.6 feet (1.7 m) to 13 feet (4 m)

o Suitable wings or side barriers

o Spacing of about 4 inches (100 mm) between the tread rails.

4. In many cases, only installing a cattle guard in a fence will not be sufficient for all the types of traffic on the land. Frequently a wire fence gate also needs to be installed near the trail cattle guard for horse riders, and to allow cattle to be moved between pastures.

5. Steel is a good choice for strength and durability.

6. Cattle Guards that lie flat on the ground require excavation of an underlying trough and periodic cleaning of the debris that falls into the trough. Elevated cattle guards can usually be placed without excavation.

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A guide to the many uses of cattle guards