A cattle grid on a road with sheep and pastures visible on each side

An Introductory Guide to Cattle Grids (+ How to Install One)

Let’s admit it: wandering livestock can be a headache. Any farm owner knows all too well how hard it is to keep the cattle confined within the farm boundaries.

Yes, you can use gates at the access points, but managing them can be inconvenient.

The solution is a cattle grid – a simple but ingenious mechanism to contain the animals without breaking a sweat. It’s not a new contraption either. Its origins can be traced back to at least the 19th century and while the design has evolved over the years, the concept remains the same.

Like everything else, cattle grids are not a perfect solution. So, here’s what you need to know so you can decide if they are your best choice to put those hooves under control.

What Are Cattle Grids For?

Black cattle grazing next to a road with a cattle guard installed

As the name suggests, the purpose of a cattle grid – a.k.a. cattle guard – is to prevent the cattle from crossing the boundaries of your property. That brings down the chances of your cattle wandering off to other properties or dangerous zones like roads. Beyond farmlands, cattle grids are used in railways, mining, bridges, and other areas. In some cases, they are also used for deer and elk.

And you know what?

The need for safety is not just for cattle but also for motorists. If you look at the numbers, our humble cows are the reason behind quite a few road accidents in Australia!

A cattle grid consists of multiple parallel metal pipes with a fixed gap between them, laid over a large pit or hole in the ground. You can also place them across a ditch running along the property. The gap between the two pipes is not large enough to let the hooves of the animals slip through easily. Humans and vehicles can pass over the grids without a problem.

What makes this design work is the fact that cattle have poor perception of distance and depth. While they have panoramic vision, cattle eyes can’t focus quickly due to their weak eye muscles. Likewise, they have difficulty seeing through shadows. 

So, the cattle hesitate before manoeuvring through the gaps between the members of the grid. The round pipes make stepping across even more treacherous. Overall, the grid structure and the pit act as a mental deterrent for them. 

Cattle grids are not a foolproof solution though. A large bull can make a 6-foot jump, but such instances are rare. If poorly installed, the cattle can squeeze through the sides of the grid.

Cattle Grids vs Farm Fences

While both options are used to restrict cattle movement, they function pretty differently. A farm fence runs along the boundary of a farm to provide security. Fences are great for confining the cattle, keeping away predators, and preventing theft. Plus, they also act as your property’s boundary line.

That said, permanent fencing is a significant investment that only bigger farms can afford.

Cattle grids are not placed along the farm boundary. They are used at specific points where the cattle can cross over. What makes them unique is the effective use of animal behaviour patterns.

Unlike fences, cattle grids need minimum maintenance. All you need to do is inspect them once in a while to check if the metal components have come loose. Also, make sure that the pit does not get filled up with debris or vegetation. Besides, with the grid in place, you need not waste time on opening and closing gates or searching for lost cattle.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

Cattle grids are not a substitute for farm fences. Fencing a large pasture is a must in many scenarios. Cattle grids can be used as an addition at entry points to ensure complete protection for the livestock. 

Common Cattle Grid Designs

Metal stock grid installed on a farm
A metal cattle guard

Firstly, let’s consider the materials you need for a cattle grid. Two common options are steel and concrete. Previously, wood was also used. However, the high maintenance and superior craftsmanship needed for a wooden setup have sent it away to the ash heap of history.

Concrete is the strongest option as it is reinforced with steel. Concrete cattle grids are extremely durable and can bear the weight of heavy farm equipment. On the other hand, grids made from galvanised steel members are more portable and highly durable. But they are more expensive than concrete options.

Some farm owners use electricity with the metal grid structure for extra protection. But keep in mind that this will affect your energy bills. 

Also, make sure to use a safe voltage and take proper safety measures to prevent electrical accidents.

Coming to cattle grid designs, there are two common options. No matter what you choose, remember this: the pit at the bottom of the grid should drain rainwater. Excess moisture in the pit will lead to plant growth and more debris accumulation. Installing pipes or drainage holes are two ways to manage this.

Let’s take a closer look at the two common varieties of cattle grid designs.

Flat Box Cattle Grid 

These grids come with members made of round pipes mounted on a concrete or box footing. Generally, the flat top is connected to the base through bolts. When placed on the pit, the structure creates an illusion of depth for the cattle.

Box designs can also have a removable box chamber. This provides bottom access for cleaning the pit. Some arrangements also have guard wings at the sides made from barbed fencing. This prevents the cattle from crossing by moving along the sides of the pit.

Boxed Cattle Grid

The top structure of a box cattle grid is similar to the flat box design. The difference is, that they do not need a footing and can be placed directly on the ground over a hole or depression. They are supported by ramps constructed on both sides. So, you will need additional space on the sides to install the structure.

There’s a caveat though. The lack of a solid foundation can make the entire grid structure move around when subjected to heavy loads. So, boxed cattle grids are best used as a temporary provision.

How Much Does a Cattle Grid Cost?

The cattle grid prices in Australia depend on the design and the dimensions. Naturally, the larger the guard, the more you will have to pay. Likewise, a flat box design with a fully galvanised construction and a heavy-duty concrete bed will cost more than a design without a base.

The price of small metal cattle grids less than 2 metres long can be around $600-$800. Larger and heavier structures can cost as much as $5,000 or more. On top of that, there will be installation costs. So, make sure to balance the cost and effectiveness of a cattle grid before making a purchase.

What to Check Before Getting a Cattle Grid

Cattle grid warning sign

In some cases, poor design can be an issue with cattle grids. Mark Drew, a farmer in Cambridge, UK, faced this problem and the grids failed to serve their purpose. “So it’s just absolutely bad design. Obviously, it will cost more now to move or reinstate the cattle grid differently and take away the old one,” says Mark.

Before buying a pre-cast concrete cattle grid, check its material quality and weight-bearing capacity. Corrosion is always an issue with metal. So, pick galvanised metal and paint the components to prevent rusting. Also, it should meet the dimensional requirements and any other site-specific demands.

While cattle grids are safe, there have been some instances of cyclists being injured while crossing them. Check the local road safety regulations and use an anti-slip coating on the grid if needed. On some roads, you may need to use signage for cattle grids.

How to Install a Cattle Grid: A 4-Step Guide

While a DIY cattle guard installation is cost-saving, you need to understand the steps involved before attempting it. A large concrete cattle grid can weigh as much as 5 tonnes. For handling such heavy loads, safety is paramount. That means you need to have the right tools and equipment to complete the installation.

Furthermore, if the ground in your area is soft and wet, you will need to pour a concrete foundation to support the cattle grid. This ensures that it has the necessary load-bearing capacity.

So, do you have the skills necessary for concrete pouring? If not, it’s best to take support from an expert.

Picking the right spot for installation is vital. Make sure to place the grid in a spot where it serves the purpose. For example, at the entrance or exit points of the fenced area.

In theory, installing a flat box cattle grid is not so difficult. There are four simple steps in the process.

  1. To start with, mark the area and excavate a pit deep enough to accommodate the concrete base. Make sure to match the dimensions of the pit to that of the grid base. Usually, the depth of the pit is kept between 8-12 inches. A deeper pit can cause serious damage to the legs of the cattle if they fall through.
  2. Start by placing a layer of gravel or crushed stone at the bottom to prevent water accumulation. Next, use a soil layer to level the bottom of the pit and compact the sides to prevent them from collapsing. This will ensure a stable foundation for the base. 
  3. Lower the base first and add a drainage connection pipe to prevent water accumulation in the base chamber. Once the base is level, lower the top bars and make the bolt connections with the base.
  4. Backfill the trench with soil and compact the finish to ensure that the grid does not settle below the surface. As an additional step, you can pour some concrete along the grid perimeter. This will prevent the road surface from sinking around the grid edges.


What is the purpose of the cattle grid?

The cattle grid works as a barrier that prevents the cattle from crossing the farm boundary. But it’s not just about keeping the animals inside. It’s also about protecting them from road traffic and other perils! 

Are cattle grids effective?

Cattle grids are effective because the cattle consider the grid structure as a hazard and remain reluctant to move across it. This makes them a good – and relatively cheap – choice for containing livestock.

Are cattle grids safe?

While cattle grids are safe for animals like dogs and goats (apart from cattle themselves), they are a hazard for horses as their hooves are thin and can easily get stuck in between the rails! When properly maintained, they are safe for humans and vehicles as well.