Improving farming efficiency with a 21st century gate

Author : Jon Hawkins, Technical Director at Newbury Innovation; and Jim Alston (farmer & concept originator)

12 March 2018

Dofygate is a fast-opening, electric gate that requires no external power, available in 2-, 4- or 7-bar versions, with spans of 2 to 6 metres. Solar-powered, it can be operated from a vehicle using a fob, or via a phone app or keypad, and is self-closing. Made from carbon fibre, the gate is strong enough to resist accidental contact from livestock.

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The device’s built-in energiser provides sufficient shock to contain all animals, including cattle, dogs and sheep. This piece focuses on how Newbury Electronics developed the idea.

Improvements in efficiency and productivity are a recurring theme across many industry sectors, and farmers are no strangers to increasing pressures on their time and demands on the bottom line. And they have all, at some time, experienced the frustration of having to stop their vehicle, get out, open a gate, return to the vehicle, drive through, park, and return to the gate to close it – before finally continuing on their way. Aside from being a tedious process, there is a risk that livestock may escape whilst the gate is open and the farmer is in his vehicle.

Jim Alston, a Norfolk-based farmer, had been frustrated by this process for some time; he initially came up with the idea of an electrified, flexible grid that would be installed at the field entrance. After initial trials, however, this approach was abandoned, and Jim returned to the idea of improving the functionality and capability of the farm gate.

Working with his colleague, Oliver Chastney, an expert in 3D CAD and engineering design, Jim explored various gate and barrier options. The result was a gate that could close within 5 seconds, moved within an animal’s field of vision, could operate on a standalone basis, and was robust enough to cope with knocks from passing farm vehicles or lively farm stock. Finally, it had to be remotely controlled.

Having been disappointed with a previous supplier, the Dofygate (Driver Operated Field and Yard Gate) team searched the web for an alternative solution, and in 2013, came across Newbury Innovation, who after a series of face-to-face meetings and quotes for different elements of the work, were appointed.

Newbury Innovation is the electronic design and development division of contract electronics manufacturer, Newbury Electronics. The company offers a complete electronic design service, helping customers refine their concept and establish if it is feasible within the required budget. They will then develop both software and hardware together, making sure that they function in harmony – followed by a comprehensive testing process.

Jon Hawkins, Technical Director of Newbury Innovation, explains: “We were able to help Jim define the spec for this complex piece of electronics and were then able to develop the board that, ultimately, is the ‘brains’ inside the gate.” One of the key challenges was being able to generate a shock that was suitable for the control of livestock, but at a very low power consumption.

The solution was an energiser: a component within the gate that provides the electric shock that acts as the deterrent for the livestock. The functioning of the energiser was just one of the elements that had be incorporated onto the PCB. Newbury Innovation also engineered it so that the energiser had sufficient sensitivity to only emit the higher shocks to livestock, and would not discharge unless the contact between the gate and the ground was at a specified level – thereby avoiding unnecessary shock cycles.

“Voltage tracking on the surface of the PCB was challenging. With the higher voltage being discharged, there was every likelihood that it would jump the air gaps between the different circuits. The final board has circuits arranged in a unique format of width, shape and spacing that were determined following a robust testing procedure,” explained Jon.

Powering the energiser was one of the main challenges, as those already on the market were designed to power long fences, more than a kilometre in length, and if that energy was used on a 3m gate, the shock would be too strong. “If an animal were to receive too high a shock, they would become scared, not only of the gate, but that entire area of the field, which would be a real problem when you came to move the livestock to a different area of the farm,” said Jim.

Whilst standalone solar power had previously been deemed unsuitable and ruled out, it became clear after talking with Newbury Electronics that, if used with a technique called ‘detection/response’, it would be the solution they had been seeking. The Dofygate operates on around 0.5mA, in stark contrast to typical energisers that use in the region of 20mA. The gate maintains a relatively low voltage of 100V, until it detects something is touching: this then triggers the energisers into putting out up to three much-higher voltage bursts – each of at least 4000V, which is a sufficient deterrent for the stock.

The final element was the design and production of the remote-control function, which includes a choice of fob, connected buttons or a mobile phone app. Launched initially to dairy farmers, the gate, which has the three key benefits of speed, ease of installation and portability, has been well received across the wider farming community.

Furthermore, gates have also been deployed on construction sites, schools and for traffic control. Jim and his team are now working on an updated version of the gate, for use with the equine community.

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