What is a cattle guard?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Star View Real Estate CO: II100035296

A cattle guard may be a source of nostalgia but it is NOT a person or a dog.   A cattle guard is:


calves in pastures 1. The subject of numerous jokes. For example: a popular version on the internet is that President Obama receives a report that Colorado had 100,000 cattle guards on federally owned land. President Obama wants to fire half the cattle guards because the Colorado ranchers protested his proposed changes in grazing policy. Upon hearing this, Vice-President Biden interjects that it would only be fair to  the cattle guards and their families to give them six months of retraining.

President Clinton had been the subject of a nearly identical joke.

2. A time saving device that is placed in a spot on a road easement or right-of-way where a gate would otherwise be needed to keep the cows in their pasture.   A cattle guard eliminates the need to open and close gates.    

Cattle Guard Merriam-Webster defines a cattle guard as “A shallow ditch with rails or bars laid across that are spread far enough apart to prevent livestock from crossing but not people or vehicles.  First known use was in 1843.”    

For example, my Dad lives in the middle of nowhere.   To get to his property, we drive on easements that are on two different land owner’s property.    We open one gate and cross two cattle guards.  Prior to the installation of the cattle guards, we had to open and close three gates.   


3. A reference point commonly used when giving directions in rural areas.


If I was giving someone directions to my Dad’s house, I would say, “After you go over the second cattle guard, follow the road to the left.   Stay on the road for about a mile and his house will be at the top of the hill. You can’t miss it.”


My Dad would commonly say, “If you are looking for me, I’ll be working on the road by the first cattle guard.”   That tells me that he is working on the road near the tank that the oil company dug for Mr. Bower’s cattle when the pipeline had a leak and oil ran into the creek.  That tank is near the first cattle guard. 


4. A source of nostalgia. 

There are a number of cattle guards that are not needed anymore because the cattle have either been removed or the road has been fenced off.   In 2007 Bill Tucker, P.E, a retired Texas Department of Transportation Area Engineer, wrote an article, “Merits of Removing Cattle Guards.”    teexweb.tamu.edu/eu/documents/07_11-12.pdf

He states one of the biggest challenges to the removal of cattle guards is nostalgia and the simple love of cattle guards.        


Prairie Canyon Ranch Douglas County Co




Sondra Meyer, CPA

Colorado Horse Property Specialist


Colorado. See It. Experience It. Live It.





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Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Sondra, I feel like I'm on Jeopardy and I got this one right! Cattleguards are familiar to me. What they sort of remind me of is a much more urban type: it's the exit that parking lots sometimes create where if you go over them one way--forward--and your tires are fine, but if you go over them backwards, they rip up your tires...and they look VERY SIMILAR to cattleguards!

(geez, I hope you know what I'm referring to...)

Your memories of your dad's directional thoughts are a window into your past, which I love hearing about.

Love the B&W photo, too, at the bottom!


Mar 18, 2013 01:15 PM #1
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Sondra, I remember when this was in the news. And being a city girl I knew what they were for. It must be from reading those western novels.

Mar 18, 2013 01:16 PM #2
David Spencer
Keller Williams Northland - Kansas City, MO
Show Me real estate in Kansas City
Watch out for cattle wearing snow shoes in high altitudes.
Mar 18, 2013 01:24 PM #3
Kevin J. May
Florida Supreme Realty - Hobe Sound, FL
Serving the Treasure & Paradise Coasts of Florida

What an interesting piece Sondra.  We have a fair amount of cattle ranches nearby and I'll have to see how they handle the issue.  

Mar 18, 2013 01:41 PM #4
Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth

Now I knew the second cattle guard Sondra but sure appreciated the Obama joke as well. We are all going to be pasture proficient in the Farm and Ranch category with your latest tutorials. What I want to know if the snow fence piles the snow on top of the cattle guard do the cattle still know it is there? LOL. Sorry, you started me down this Cowboy path....

Mar 18, 2013 01:42 PM #5
Kim Gaston
FRONT PORCH TEAM REAL ESTATE & PROPERTY STYLING - Brokerage, Colorado Real Estate Advisers LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs REALTOR®, CNE (719)661-6987

Ha, great post Sondra. You really had to open and close 3 gates?

My dad lives on a farm in Illinois, but we didn't have cattle, so no guards. My uncle in Pennsylvania has them and not that long ago I asked about their purpose. My dog won't walk over steel grates either. Hmm...maybe she's part Hereford (she's pretty red).


Mar 18, 2013 02:08 PM #6
Sondra Meyer:
Star View Real Estate - Colorado Springs, CO
See It. Experience It. Live It.

Thank you all for your comments.  Colorado appeals to a lot of Texas buyers.  So, as a Texan, that is how I am choosing some of my "what is" topics required for Kerrie's latest challenge. 

Yes, Kim....three gates.  Maybe that is why I am so nostalgic when it comes to cattle guards.  My Dad built and installed both cattle guards.  It was a lot of work yet they simplified life.  Fortunately, his has lasted a long time. 

I'll be completely honest.....I'm still wondering about cattle guards and the snow.  In the area's between Denver and Colorado Springs, we don't get all that much snow.  If I had cattle at my house, I'd just give them a little extra hay up at the barn so that way they wouldn't be very interested in wondering around in places they don't belong for a day or so. 

Up in the mountains....I guess they actually have to close the gate in the winter.   Frequently, the gate is installed first, then the cattle guard. 

Mar 18, 2013 02:21 PM #7
Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI
Realty One Group - Carlsbad, CA
Presence, Persistence & Perseverance
You know Sondra, I'll bet Obama and Crazy Joe would like to spend billions of borrowed Chinese $$ to train the cattle to defend themselves, so the 'cattle guards' would no longer be necessary;-)
Mar 18, 2013 08:32 PM #8
Debbie Laity
Cedaredge Land Company - Cedaredge, CO
Your Real Estate Resource for Delta County, CO

I have to chuckle this morning, Sondra. This is a great blog explaining cattle guards. Those of us in the "wild west" know about them, but others outside of the area probably don't. I had someone once ask me what is irrigation water?

Mar 18, 2013 10:28 PM #9
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County has a cattle guard at the main entrance.  I guess it is supposed to deter deer from entering the park. I do not know if it actually serves the purpose.

Mar 19, 2013 02:56 AM #10
Tony & Darcy Cannon
Aubrey and Associates Realty - Layton, UT
The C Team

Sondra, nice post, we have lots of cattle guards here in our area, so they are pretty common, I hope that they don't go away!

Mar 19, 2013 04:46 AM #11
Mark Horan
Resident Team Realty, LLC & Toni's Property Management LLC - Saint Cloud, FL
"The Resident Chef" - Resident Team Realty LLC &

Sondra, Those city folks have no idea. I see the cattle on the Partin Ranch everyday I walk outside, as it is across the canal on the other side of the street. Cattle are a endangered species here as developers are trying to buy up the land and have options on it since 2008. I don't want to see houses when I walk outside. But they say it's progress. Nice post.

Mar 19, 2013 10:09 AM #12
Steve Hoffacker
Steve Hoffacker LLC - West Palm Beach, FL
Certified Aging In Place Specialist-Instructor


Great shots. Remembering playing on these. :)


Mar 24, 2013 02:32 PM #13
Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams fox cities - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

Hi Sondra, even though I grew up in a rural area, I had never encountered one of these useful devices until I moved to NM in 1985, They are very useful, but so far I have not seen them anywhere outside of the Southwest.

Mar 25, 2013 02:00 PM #14
Steve Hoffacker
Steve Hoffacker LLC - West Palm Beach, FL
Certified Aging In Place Specialist-Instructor


Congratulations. Your post is now featured in the group "Black & White Photos." :)


Apr 06, 2013 03:46 AM #15
Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor
Keller Williams Realty - Redlands, CA
(909) 557-6966, GREEN, SFR, CHS-Redlands/Loma Lind

Hi Sondra,

Great post and I thought I knew what it was and yes I was right. We had a lot of ranches and western movies too here in California. Who says TV does not give you an education. I love the B & W photo of the cows. Thanks for sharing.

Apr 11, 2013 02:06 PM #16
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