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Homemade Pasture Gate: Woodlot To Fenceline Project

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

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GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.Our sheep have a stubborn streak in them that makes it tough to move them to greener pastures without a fight, especially when the pasture gates aren't tough and tight. Last Saturday about half the flock discovered that an old homemade barb wire and batten  pasture gate was easy to skinny beneath. Since that old homemade pasture gate stretched across an opening between our backyard and a wooded area of their east pasture, it was time to come up with a new plan. Much as we like sheep, we don't like them in the yard, unless we put them there to mow. As I was contemplating a trip to town to shell out more than 100 hard earned bucks for a 14-foot gate, my Partner In Culinary Crime wondered aloud why I didn't just make one, and a rustic one at that. 

 Pearl the Cairn Terrier approves of the new homemade pasture gate because she can still squeeze under it. 

After a bit of measuring and figuring, it was off to the woodlot for the two of us where we cut sufficient (and mostly straight) Osage Orange and Hackberry saplings (young trees more like) to make a pair of 5-bar pasture gates that would meet in the middle. Much as we love hand tools, we used the Echo chain saw with the 12-inch long bar to grub out the wood. We chose Osage Orange for the gate's standards and top and bottom rails because it is especially decay resistant. The Hackberry was chosen to make our homemade gates a little lighter and because we have many more Hackberry saplings in the woods than Osage Orange.

 Hackberry and Osage Orange homemade pasture gates. 

The first step was to cut a pair of standards for each gate -- one about a foot longer at the bottom than the other. Our standards approximated 5.5-feet long for the hinge edge and 4.5-feet long for the latch edge. Next I trimmed the Osage Orange top and bottom rails to length, flattened one surface on their ends with a sculptors adze and nailed them to the standards with 16-penny nails. Since the Osage Orange is so dense, I bent several nails, which were so difficult to pull out that I finally resorted to drilling pilot holes before nailing, which I should have done in the first place; the drill bit was about half the the nail's diameter.

 Homemade pasture gate barb wire detail. 

Once the homemade pasture gate's frame was cobbled together, we wracked them until diagonal measurements were within 0.25 inch of one another, called them square and cut, fit and nailed Osage Orange diagonal braces on place. The braces land on the hinge standard toward the bottom and at the intersection of the latch standard and the top rail. Once that exercise was completed, we peeled the bark from several Hackberry poles using a drawknife (Hackberry rots away fast if you leave the bark on) and shaped and nailed them to the frame as before. Once we got two Hackberry rails installed on the homemade gates, my Partner In Culinary Crime noted that the gates were likely to be "awfully heavy." Much as I knew she was right, I grumbled around for a spell regardless before agreeing that for sheep the bottom three rails might be sufficient.

Since we were making these gates on a shoestring, I decided to hang them using an old fashioned method where the hinge standard is planted in a hole next to the fence post (we lined our hinge holes with pieces of red brick) and some cleverly twisted smooth wire is used as the top hinge. With Osage Orange standards in the holes, no worries about rotting for about 30 years, at which point we can install proper hinges if we wish. Since the gates are indeed heavy, we also set a nice flat piece of native limestone on the ground at the point where the two gates meet in the middle. You have to lift the ends about a half inch to set them on the stone. After admiring our handiwork for a bit, I could envision our horned Highland cattle poking their heads through the top and second rail of the four-rail gate and basically tearing the homemade gates apart. So I took a barb wire remnant and looped it lengthwise around each gate where the fourth rail was initially supposed to be located and twisted them tight with a light Osage Orange stick. I found a piece of ancient implement drive chain in the barn and fashioned a temporary gate latch pending a better design.

Shortly after hanging the second gate, the sheep saw us working and came bleating up to check out our handiwork. I don't know whether it was the heavy-duty look of the gate or that the spaces between the rails really seemed too narrow, but they turned around and went back to grazing without even giving our homemade pasture gate a test. And that's just fine with me.

Photos Courtesy Karen Keb

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

4/6/2015 9:52:11 PM

Excellent article Hank! I can do this! This kind of gate would look a sight better in certain places on our ranch than the pre-fab stuff we already have. What, if any, problems did you envision you might have because you used green wood? - Thanks, Renee (a blogger from over at Cappers)

1/23/2015 3:12:03 PM

The Plains Indians used Osage Orange for their bow and arrows. It may be one of the easiest trees to find in Kansas; it is also known as Hedge. The knobby posts are fantastic and simply won't rot. There are miles and miles of barbwire fences in Kansas held in place by Hedge posts. It makes a fire as hot as coal, and it was used extensively in windbreaks to combat the dust bowl. Hackberry and Osage Orange or Hedge are both considered "trash" trees in my area, but are actually very useful when you need a really hard dense wood. Good article!

michele' preston
11/21/2010 8:37:27 AM

This reminds me of the beautiful twig art that was a big movement for many years. I am impressed with your gates as they are simple but very elegant & blend with the nature around them. I am glad that you were able to use something that was already there, natural & free...Ok the labor to go drag them out wasn't free in a sense. :) Thank you for sharing this with us & I hope that you will find many more things to do with the twigs you find on your land!

hank will_2
11/19/2010 10:44:38 AM

Hey Elizabeth, Thanks for the kind words. That little dog is Pearl our year-old Cairn Terrier. She is an awesome little farm dog and is the only of our dogs that routinely swims across the ponds or to the island on one pond to hunt bullfrogs and water snakes. Luckily we don't have any snappers. Hank

elizabeth petofi
11/19/2010 9:10:30 AM

Very interesting article. I especially appreciate that it was explicit as so many articles are uselessly fuzzy. I am particularly interested in knowing what kind of little dog is that in the photo??? (If you know). I have an almost unbearably cute dog that looks very much like yours, which is known to be part chihuahua but I don't know the the other part, the long silky white hair part that looks kind of Yorkie or terrier! It's off-gate-topic, but I sure would like to know about that little doggie in the image!!! Thanks!

hank will_2
11/18/2010 2:52:19 PM

Hey Randall -- Thanks for the kind words. I've gone through an epiphany of sorts when it comes to using resources around the place. I am tickled to find a fun and useful way to use up a proportion of all those spindly saplings that make it virtually impossible to walk through some of the wooded areas on the farm. Once upon a time, I thought if I couldn't buy what they said I needed, then I couldn't do it ... that included me not even thinking to weld up all kinds of things using the vast scrap heaps on my previous farms. Then one day I was looking at a junky steel bracket at the local farm store and the light bulb went off. I went home and welded up a set of brackets that was at least 5 times as strong, exactly the size I needed and almost free (I can burn through a lot of 6013 rod :)). Please send photos when you get home and get to your gates. Thanks, Hank

randall & mary
11/11/2010 5:27:34 AM

I am currently in Afghanistan and spennd alot of my down time reading up on anything to do with country/rural living or related to small scale farming. When I saw the article I was visioning a gate made of treated lumber and rust resistant nuts/bolts. I was pleasantly suprised by what I saw...I know when my wife receives the hard copy in the mail...the making of at least two of these gates will be added to the "to do" list when I get home...thanks...something else to keep me from fishing!! Randall

hank will_2
11/9/2010 4:47:44 PM

Hey thanks for the kind words, Dave. It is funny but I've grumbled about all of the skinny saplings in that piece of woods before. And then it dawned on me -- they are a resource that I really don't mind using. We will never cut them all and the understory will be thinned in the process of making cool stuff that we can use. When I was younger I sometimes despaired because I couldn't afford all the "stuff" they said you needed to do something the right way. Slowly but surely I figure out that the "stuff" the people made for themselves was both lovely and functional and sometimes even fun to make.

nebraska dave
11/9/2010 4:29:53 PM

@Hank, that’s a mighty fine looking pioneer gate you made. It’s always good to use what you got to make what you need. Sometimes I wish I had a bigger place to be able to find trees and saplings to make arches and fences as well as a ready source for rocks to use for things around the yard. It just isn’t going to happen. I’ll just have to continue to get rocks and things from folks taking out retaining walls and branches from those that have me trim their trees. Thanks for keeping that pioneer spirit alive. Have a great autumn day.