The answer to this question is: it depends. If you own cattle you might need a cattle guard. If you don’t have a herd of your own, probably not.
What are Texans talking about when they use the term cattle guard? Granted, it is a bit confusing. What is it that is posing a danger to the cattle that requires a guard, anyway?
This is a coyote. It’s pronounced, “ky-oat” with a long, very long, i and a long o, and a silent e on the end. At least that’s the way we say it in this part of Texas.
Coyotes are by far the most widely prevalent predator that livestock owners deal with in Texas. A pack of two or three of these would have no trouble bringing down a calf, especially a newborn. Sheep and goat ranchers are even more vulnerable to loses because of the smaller size of their animals.
The state of Texas hires trappers to set mechanical traps and put out poison bait to try and keep populations down. I’ve even observed helicopters carrying coyote snipers flying over shooting them from the air.
They are also a favorite game animal of hunters young and old. Often hunters go out in the early morning or evening and broadcast recordings of crying rabbits to try and draw them in to be shot.
Other predators would include mountain lions, wild or stray dogs, large bobcats and cattle thieves.
All of these pose a threat to cattle in varying degrees. After all, you can’t watch them every minute.
Some people have had good success with a guard dog or even running a donkey with their herds. A donkey will chase down and kick any kind of dog if they come near them.
More sheep and goat ranchers use this kind of companion protection than cattle ranchers do, but one occasionally sees donkeys or even llamas with a cattle herd, especially during calving season.
Livestock guard dogs originated in the mountains of France, Turkey and other Euro-Asian countries that raise pasture livestock. These dogs have become very popular in Texas because they roam at night and will often kill or scare away predators and other night time varmints that may be intruding in their territory.
Cattle Guards: Technically these animals can be said to be guardians, but is this what Texans mean when they talk about cattle guards?
This is a cattle guard. Do you see it? It kind of looks like a mirage on the road.
It’s constructed of heavy steel pipes welded together. It’s about seven feet across and stretches from fence edge to fence edge on both sides. Under the pipes the dirt is removed to create empty spaces a few feet deep. When the cattle approach this, they sense that they could fall in or get a leg stuck and they stay off of it.
So a cattle guard is really to keep cattle inside a fence rather than to protect the cattle. It’s really to protect the rancher from the danger of his cattle roaming away.
Of course, a rancher could always just shut the gate, and that is what is done in most instances in a pasture, but when you have a well-traveled road that passes through a pasture fence, it’s a lot more convenient to just be able to drive through without stopping.
There are places to purchase one ready-made, but most guys build their own. Just about everybody owns a welder or has access to one.
Every so often, one has to maintenance their cattle guard. A weld might break loose or more likely, they have gotten filled in with some Texas dirt.
Now this is what people think of when they hear the term “Cattle Guards” right? Any rancher would sleep like a baby at night knowing these guys were watching the herd. No coyote, bobcat or even a mountain lion would stand a chance with this crew on the case. Well, we’re getting close. This is an actual hunting party hoping to find a coyote or a wild hog, but more for fun than to protect the cattle.
So, what is a cattle guard then?
That’s what these guys are doing. They’ve taken the skid steer (see the forks sticking out on the right hand side of the picture) and lifted off the cattle guard. Now they are digging out the spaces underneath. If the holes get too filled in, the cattle don’t have the same fear response and might try to walk or jump across. That means you’ve got to start shutting the gate again, and nobody wants to stop and do that.
These guys really look hot and tired. I can tell they are not very excited to see me coming with a camera and not some glasses of iced tea. Thank goodness this only has to be done every couple of years.
They did surprise me by showing me this Texas longnose snake that they uncovered. Isn’t it a beauty?
So now you know the story on a Texas cattle guard and its purpose.