The truth about behaviour and cattle grids

On our travels through the US and Canada, we have crossed a number of cattle grids (I have also seen them referred to as Texas gates). Most people would know them – the metal grids in the road to prevent livestock from crossing. They are most usually used on the open range, where there are no fences and the livestock roam across roads and the cattle grids serve as gates. Cows and horses shy away from the grids, as they are unable to walk on the bars without falling through, and seem to sense that they are dangerous and something to avoid.

However, we crossed one in Canada that was not a grid, but a series of lines painted on the road to resemble a grid.

I have heard of this being done, but never actually seen it before. A few years ago, the painted cattle grid was the subject of a story in a culture change program that I facilitated. The story was adapted from “Play to Win” (Wilson and Wilson) by my good friend and mentor, Fabian Dattner from Dattner Grant. Seeing the painted cattle grid reminded me of the story and the lessons from it.

There once was a farmer who didn’t have a great deal of money. His property was bisected by a public road, and he wasn’t able to install a gate for access reasons. He wanted to be able to keep his cattle out of the river paddock, which was too lush and green for them at that time of year. Now normally he would have installed a cattle grid, but being a bit down on his luck, he couldn’t afford to do so.

He was at the pub, telling his mates about this, and one of them suggested a painted cattle grid. “Cows are dumb” he pointed out, “and they will never notice that it isn’t real”.

Now our farmer was a bit sceptical, but having nothing to lose, he grabbed a tin of white paint from the shed and painted lines on the road. Sure enough the cows refused to approach the lines and stayed out of the river paddock.

This worked really well for a few weeks. Then, a cow who was a bit smarter than average (lets call her Bessie), was grazing near the painted grid and thought to herself that it looked a bit odd. She grazed her way over and took a good long look, and then pawed it with a hoof. Seeing that it was safe, Bessie tentatively made her way to the other side, followed by the other cows.

So what do we learn from this story?

– We often rely on what we know to be true, without ever testing it. LOOKS like a cattle grid, must BE a cattle grid.

– What we know to be true often fences us in, or holds us back.

– Organisations have their own versions of what they know to be true. For example – “that’s how we have always done it” is a common refrain in businesses.

– However, if we stop long enough to have a good long look at what is holding us back (fencing us in), if we think carefully about road blocks, the barriers disappear (they are simply paint)

– If we can understand the difference between what is real and what we imagine (and create as a result) we can achieve things we never thought were possible

What would be the advantage of testing your own truths? And the truths in your organisation?

What might you learn? What would the benefits be?

What is holding you back from growth? Is it real, or just a painted cattle grid?

Contact Ros for leadership development, coaching and facilitation or visit Shaping Change at


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One reply on “The truth about behaviour and cattle grids”

Outstanding post! Yes, during my lifetime I have pawed at many a painted grid: I’m not smart enough, not clever enough, not pretty enough, not lucky enough to attain my deepest desires. How empowering to discover that all those beliefs were based on illusions! Each successive victory builds my confidence to test the next illusion. And I’m so glad you’re here to support us all as we eye those gates that seem so dangerous, we hesitate to approach them.

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