Cattle are often kept in the same pasture for an extended period of time for varying reasons. At the Noble Research Institute's Coffey Ranch, for example, cattle are kept close to the working pens during calving season. During calving, we will go into the pasture two to three times, or more, per day to feed, check the cows and calves, and tag new calves as they are born. Opening and closing gates has never been anyone's favorite chore. The earliest opportunities my sons got to "help me" was opening and closing gates as I drove through.
In 2011, we revamped an old idea that we had used at the Pasture Demonstration Farm: an electric cattle guard. The idea is simple and takes about half a day to construct and install. The previous model was 7 feet long and was centered in the fence line. The revised version is 3 feet, 6 inches long and placed with one edge in the fence.
- Two schedule 40, 3"-diameter PVC pipes, cut to 3' 6"
- 14 eye bolts - 3/8" x 6"
- 14 Springs - 3 1/2" to 4" long, 3/4" round with strong tension
- 12 1/2 gauge hi-tensile wire
- Flexible wire
- Using a 3/8" drill bit, drill holes through both pieces of PVC pipe, beginning 3" from the end on 6" centers. On a 90 degree angle, drill a hole at each end of the PVC to accommodate ground stakes.
- Place one edge of each PVC pipe in line with your fence on a relatively level area, and secure it using ground stakes. The cattle guard can be as wide as you need it to be.
- Take an eye bolt, attach a spring and place it in a pre-drilled hole.
- Attach hi-tensile wire to the end of the spring on both sides of the cattle guard.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until completed.
- Take a short piece of flexible wire, start at the outside eye bolt and wrap the wire between the nut and PVC pipe; wrap each eye bolt in the same manner, then connect a power line from the fence to the cattle guard. (This step need only be done on one side of the cattle guard.)
- Tighten bolts on each side of the cattle guard equally until the springs begin to separate.
- Run a short wire 3' off the ground from the fence to the outside edge of the cattle guard on both sides.
The electric cattle guard lets us easily manage our herd without fear of them crossing it and wandering into unwanted areas. It has also eliminated the nuisance of opening and closing gates multiple times a day. This type of cattle guard is simple, easy to construct and costs less than a conventional metal cattle guard. Not counting the cost of the wire or ground stakes, this cattle guard can be built for under $75.
There are a few maintenance issues and limitations with an electric cattle guard. First, the wires need to be 3 to 4 inches off the ground to prevent them from creating a short, and the vegetation needs to be sprayed three to four times each year. Vehicles with low ground clearance or objects hanging down from trucks or other equipment have a tendency to pull the wire off the eye bolts and springs. We have successfully contained bulls as long as they were with the cows, but it cannot be used to keep the bulls away from the cows.
The electric cattle guard has been a low cost, valuable asset in the day-to-day operation of the Coffey Ranch. It has increased the speed of checking and tagging cattle, and created easier access to the eastern part of the ranch.