Introduction: Automating a Farm Gate, No Dig

About: engineer doing treechange

After many years in the big city, couple of years ago we did a tree change to the country. I still work in the big city, in house for a couple of days a week, remote for the remainder. Its a 4 hour commute, and getting out of the car after a long drive to open gates sucks. So - gate automation and barn door automation

Step 1: Automating a Farm Gate With No Digging

A couple of years ago we did a tree change to the country. The home paddock has a couple of gates, and it got pretty tedious doing the stop, get out, open gate, get in car, drive through, get out, close gate, back in car, drive off shuffle. So I added a gate opener to one gate. Its not for security, just to keep the cattle out.

While that was successful, adding opening buttons for visitors, and running power involved a fair bit of digging to run conduit. Digging is work. So when it came time to automate the second gate, I attempted to do it with no digging.

Here is how.

In general, I used a kit from a local supplier, with a few plumbing fittings for customization, and a couple of metal brackets. This project will use 2 of the remotes for the entry and exit buttons. The kit has three. If you have more than one car or tractor or mower to use the gate, consider whether you want to buy some more at this stage.

Parts used

Step 2: What Was There, and New Design

We had a couple of 2.7m (9 foot) gates, joined in the middle with a short chain. I figured locking a double gate without some sort of stop was too hard, so chose to use a single 3.6m (12 foot) new gate. The other end of the home paddock has a 3.6m gate, so that should be big enough. The ground slopes up on the outside, so it appeared having the new gate open inwards was the best option. As I need to get from gate to barn, it had to hinge on the left hand side.

Step 3: Gate Kit

I used a swing gate kit from a local supplier. It had a nice stainless steel actuator, control box, and mounting brackets, and remote control with 3 remotes. I added an optional remote lock to hopefully stand up to a cow leaning against it. I also added an optional actuator clamp to a tubing gate. I ended up not using the remote pushbutton included as it was a touch big. I purchased a solar kit for first gate I automated, and ended up wiring power to it as it was easier than mounting the solar panel. For this gate I used the solar panel and regulator from the older kit as that involved no digging.

Step 4: Hang a New Gate

I removed one old gate and fitted a wider one. I lowered it as I no longer had to align to a second gate . This involved drilling a couple of 18mm holes right through the 330mm hardwood post due to the hinge fitting style.. Old Australian hardwood is hard! I went through a few charges on the battery drill drilling 2 holes, but it made it. A lot of work for a less than tradesman grade 18V drill.

Step 5: Add Lock

I made up a back plate for the gate lock (140mm x 100mm in 5mm steel plate). Also some 80mm bolts, which are actually cut lengths of 8mm threaded rod. As I live on a farm, its a long way to the nearest hardware shop.

I welded the supplied gate latch bracket to another smaller plate, and made a third plate to allow bolting the latch bracket to the gate stop post. Paint the cut and welded bits of steel to control rust.

Fit the lock to the end of the gate. I had it up high as that seemed to be where a cow would lean. The back plate goes around the gate diagonal reasonably neatly.

I then clipped on the lock stationary bracket to see where the gate stop post needed to be. Here I discovered I had a clearance problem, so modified my freshly painted bracket to fit better.

Drive a star picket in as a gatepost now its obvious where it has to be. If I was doing this without a no-dig rule, a steel post dug in would have been neater, but the heavy duty star picket works well enough. Note the bolt origami to mount the lock stationary bracket plate to the star picket.

Close off the remainder of the gap. I chose to use a small people gate I had, swung where the right hand gate was originally. Drive a second star picket for the second gate post. Add a skirt of old conveyor belt rubber from the old gate under the small gate to keep my canine assistant in. The concrete gate post on that side didn’t have additional holes to allow me to lower that gate.

Practice your fencing closing off between the two pickets. I later added a timber top rail and diagonal brace wires to allow me to strain up the short fence section and make it fairly rigid.

Finally cable tie (zip tie) the wire to the lock along the gate. I looped a couple of turns of wire where it hinges for strain relief.

Step 6: Mount Actuator

Now its time to mount the actuator. I chose to mount the actuator pull-to-open. Push-to-open uses up a bit of gate width when open, and I figured that would not survive the first time the tractor hit it.

The kit comes with cardboard length gauges, but also suggests 250mm behind and outside the gate line (measured from the hinge axis) is good. So I just used a ruler and bolted the supplied bracket to the timber gate post. I ended up neatly on 250mm back, but was about 80mm too far from the gate plane due to the bracket length. I figured I’d adjust the bracket later if necessary, but it worked fine there.

Note the actuator brackets should be at the same height as the lock. The actuator comes fully in, or shortest. Which will be gate open for me. So open the gate fully and hold the actuator to see where on the gate the gate bracket will end up. Mount the gate bracket to the gate, don’t tighten yet. Screw the actuator end pivot bracket to the gate bracket. Now fit the actuator at each end. Take note to keep the water drain hole down as the notice says.

Tighten all bracket screws with the gate fully open. You don’t actually need a mechanical stop, its OK for the actuator to bottom out. The controller must measure motor current and sense when to stop.

Step 7: Add Solar

Now its time to mount the solar panel. I found a 100x50mm piece of pressure treated pine 5m long and used that for a mast. I mounted the solar cell at about a 60 degrees from horizontal angle, to get as much sun in winter as possible. I cut a piece of pine to fit on the back of the panel near the top, and used the metal bracket included with the panel at lower. If I was doing it again I might make a more rigid mounting, lets see how this lasts. Its all bolted together with 75mm galvanized screws. Tack the panel wire ot the side of the mast to locate it. I tied off the wire at the top for strain relief too. Now mount the mast. I tied it off to a fencepost with 3mm fence wire and gripples. I also used a screw top and bottom to locate the mast.

Step 8: Wire Control Box

I had a previous gate and this one to control from the remotes, so I reprogrammed the new ones to match my existing remotes. This involves opening up the remotes, all new ones and one existing one, and changing the switches in the new remotes to be the same as the old one. Do the same with the receiver. If you only have one gate, skip this step. If you buy more remotes, you may have to program the extra ones the same this way too. Note the DIP switches here have 3 positions, up, down and centre.

Now its time to wire up the control box.

I chose to make a few changes from the recommendations that came with the kit.

  • I wanted to be able to control whether the gate closed automatically or not, without having to unscrew the control box lid and fiddle DIP switches. So I mounted an extra sealed toggle switch on the control box bottom.
  • I wanted to be able to check and maybe charge the battery in case the solar was insufficient. So I added a couple of banana sockets to the box bottom. Easy to poke a multimeter in there if I’m curious.
  • I mounted the solar regulator, battery and radio a little differently to the recommended way.

So choose whether you want to copy some or all of what I did here, or stick to recommendations.

  1. First take your toggle switch, solder on 2 pieces about 300mm long of wire (I used solid phone wire) and add a bit of heat-shrink to be neat.
  2. Remove the control board from the box (2 screws) and solder across DIP switch number 8. With the DIP switch in the off position, this allows the toggle to select between the gate needing push-to-open then push-to-close, or closing automatically after 30 seconds.
  3. Drill the marked mounting holes in the back of the box If you want banana sockets, drill holes in the bottom. Drill a mounting hole for the toggle switch too. Finally drill a 2mm hole in the bottom to allow the antenna wire to be straight. Drill slotted holes in the back for the big cable tie used to locate the battery.
  4. Brush out any drill swarf, then mount the board back in the box.
  5. Mount the supplied bracket, and cable tie the remote radio receiver to it.
  6. Push the auto close switch into the hole in the bottom, and neaten up the wires to it. Tighten up the nut on the switch.
  7. Mount the two banana sockets on the bottom. Note I originally had them side by side, but that fouled the battery. So I moved the black one. Silicone up the hole if you are silly enough to make the same mistake.
  8. Strip back the red and black power wires from the remote, maybe tin the leads, and connect up as shown.
  9. Decide which button on the remote you want to open the gate. I chose the yellow button, as red was the first gate. Then strip back, join and tin the two yellow wires from the remote and connect as shown. The brown wire from the remote corresponds to the right hand yellow button. Orange is the left hand red button. I didn’t use the orange, but if you connect orange in parallel with brown either remote button will work the gate. Connect up whichever control wires you wish to use.
  10. Stick the red remote antenna wire out the hole in the bottom of the box. Keep it reasonably straight.
  11. Mount the solar regulator somewhere.
  12. Wire the red and black power wires to the battery terminals (middle pair) of the solar regulator.
  13. Extend those 2 wires to the banana plugs as shown and solder. Its easiest to do this before mounting the battery (another mistake in hindsight).
  14. mount the battery. I used a long stout cable tie. Don’t connect up the battery yet.
  15. Dress the wires a little bit with some more small cable ties to be neat.

Step 9: Mount Control Box

Silicone up the unused mounting screw behind the regulator if you drilled that, and silicone up where the battery cable tie holes are. Now screw the control box to the fence next to the gatepost.

Run wires to the control box, starting with the shortest one. This was the actuator motor for me. Run the wires in the cable gland at the bottom, and connect the motor to the control board as shown.

Next longest was the lock wire, connect it up (white and black wires) next to the motor ‘a’. Run the wire through the cable gland.

Next is the solar. I had to cut that to length and then connect through the cable gland to the 2 left hand terminals of the solar regulator as shown.

Silicone up the cable gland to keep out the creepy crawlies.

Set the various dip switches to suit. Its important for 7 and 8 to be off for the auto close toggle switch to work.

Step 10: Make Remote Enclosures

The kit comes with a push to operate button in a nice little metal box, but I wanted a waterproof enclosure big enough for a pushbutton, a remote, and perhaps a bigger battery. I also wanted the button recessed so that a cow could not push it by bopping it with her head. Plastic plumbing fittings do a good job of keeping the water in, and are UV rated, so should do fine outside.

  1. Screw a couple of wires 300mm long to a couple of waterproof pushbuttons, and goop up with silicone.
  2. I checked the local hardware shop for a plastic plumbing end cap that fitted inside an 88 degree elbow. I ended up with a 40mm end cap inside a 50mm pressure pipe elbow. See what your plumbing supply can manage.
  3. Cut down the end cap so its nicely recessed.
  4. Drill a hole in the end cap to mount the pushbutton.
  5. Mount the switch
  6. Tap the end cap into the elbow. I had a nice friction fit so I didn’t bother with glue. That will hopefully also allow any water that sneaks in to drain.
  7. Cut 140mm of pipe and glue in to the top of the elbow. The wire from the switch should come through. There is much more space here than necessary, allowing for me to add a bigger battery if needed later.
  8. Now open the remote. Remove the single screw, then twist a flat screwdriver in the seam at the top to separate the case. Remove the battery.
  9. Make a couple of holes in the side of the remote to get the switch wires in. I poked the case with a hot soldering iron tip.
  10. Now comes the only hard bit of this project. You now need to solder the 2 wires from the pushbutton across the remote control switch button you chose earlier. You will need a very small conical soldering iron tip and fine solder for this. Something suitable for surface mount soldering should be fine. Tin the ends of the switch on the board with leaded solder first, then solder the wires neatly. (lead free solder melting point is a bit high) Don’t short to the diode on the right hand side, its fairly close.
  11. Dress wires so the lid fits back on, replace the battery, and clip back and screw down the lid. Don't bother with the button cover or the metal split ring.
  12. Slip the remote into the top of the plumbing pip and tap on a pipe cap. Don’t glue down the cap, you will need to swap the remote battery in a couple of years.
  13. Do this for two remotes, as you want buttons on either side of the gate.

Step 11: Test

Now drive a star picket or post in a suitable place so you can lean out the car window and push the button to open the gate. For vehicles without a remote that is. Cable tie or otherwise attach the remote control to the post as shown.

Connect up the battery, and push one of the remote buttons. The first time, the gate isn’t sure whether it is open or closed and will probably guess wrong. Push a second time if needed. The gate should close and lock.

If all is good, screw the lid onto the control box and enjoy your new gate.