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.
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.
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.
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 Google+.