Riven Ash Gate Hurdles were used for folding sheep and pigs, in 1730 Viscount “turnip” Townshend devised the Norfolk four course rotation (barley, turnips, clover and wheat) a system that allowed farmers to feed their stock through the winter, also improving the health of their stock and increasing the fertility and condition of their land.
Stock was moved daily on to fresh fodder, a square (fold) of Hurdles was erected in the crop field on day one, on day two a second fold was added to the first fold, and a hurdle was removed on the (common) side, and the stock was driven from fold one to fold two. This continued around the field.
Gate hurdles can be made from Ash, Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Willow, they are a great project to make as there are a number of skills to master, the main skill being riving / cleaving timber. For this you will need to set up a strong riving/cleaving brake (see diagram) a Froe and a little patience.
There are no special tools needed to make gate hurdles, apart from a froe, traditionally the mortise slots were drilled and then cleaned up with a special tool called a “Twybil”(see diagram/photo) these were made to order from the local blacksmith, my one was made to my design by Peter Collins, The three chimney’s forge. In the video I use a carpenter’s chisel. The other essential tool is a good quality sharp Draw-Knife.
Ash and Willow are the more common materials available. Ash is the sweetest to work with, a good place to harvest it from are soft wood plantations that have been planted over broadleaf sites. The regenerating Ash competes with the usurper to produce clean straight poles. Willow can be obtained from Bio-mass producers, but it’s not the easiest material to work with. Whatever material you use, it needs to be cut in the winter and stored in a dry airy building, and then worked-up in the spring. Fresh cut material will shear-off, shatter, and run off centre, its better left to harden.
The whole idea behind riving/cleaving timber is to maximise your materials, and make light, strong hurdles. It’s a good idea to cut some extra poles, maybe a few grade two, these are good to practise on, or test from time to time as they dry.