Living off the land has helped the Hutchinson family accumulate a trio of farms in tough eastern Taranaki hill country. Russell Priest reports.

At 41, Taranaki’s Clint and Rebecca Hutchinson have achieved more than most young couples would have achieved in their entire lifetimes.

Not only have they accumulated three farms totalling 2074 hectares (1400ha effective) from scratch but have also produced four extremely active children; Liam (12), Zac (11), Charlotte (8) and Nina (5). What makes their story even more remarkable however is that land acquisition has been achieved by rather unconventional means.

Both Clint and Rebecca were raised on tough hill country farms in the Whangamomona area of Taranaki, famous for its remoteness and its “Forgotton World Highway” (FWH). Traversing the rugged central North Island from Stratford in the west to Taumarunui in the east the highway has become a mecca in the summer for tourists wishing to capture a glimpse of New Zealand as it used to be.

Being raised on marginally economic farms both Clint and Rebecca were introduced at an early age by their parents to the “living off the land philosophy”. Live capture of goats, eeling, possum and pig hunting became an integral part of their upbringing.

Clint, the second oldest of four brothers, was raised on a 243ha farm at Kahuratahi near Whangamomona. Times were tough bringing up four boys on such an uneconomic unit so Clint’s father Gavin turned to harvesting game to supplement his income.

“I was brought up in the goat boom and that’s how our family got ahead,” Clint says.

“On one of our eight-day expeditions into the bush we captured 30 nannies by baling them up against the Heao Stream with heading dogs, loading them on to our two rafts then heading for the Tangarakau River before chucking them on a jet boat and making for home.”

One of Gavin’s legacies was to instil in all his sons a passion for hunting. He died 12 years ago.

Proceeds from the goat boom allowed the family to buy a 2834ha farm at Mohakatino near Mokau in northern Taranaki and move there in 2000 while retaining the 243ha farm at Kahuratahi.

Clint and Rebecca’s pathway to farm ownership began when as 21-year-olds they leased the original 243ha family farm at Kahuratahi in 2000 along with another 243ha block across the road. Their first farm at Marco was bought in 2003 followed by a second at Kahuratahi in 2005. Huinga was bought in 2015 bringing the family closer to Stratford, giving the children more opportunities.

It was eeling that brought Clint and Rebecca together.

“I went down to Rebecca’s old man’s place chasing eels and saw Rebecca carting eels out of streams in the bush. I thought to myself any sheila who can do that must be pretty special.”

So when it came to financing their own farm ownership aspirations they turned to sustainably harvesting goats, possums and eels.

Working out of Whangamomona 23 years ago as 18-year-olds, Clint and Rebecca would capture goats in remote locations (they had all been cleaned out on the easy country during the goat boom) and transport them out of the bush 15 at a time in canoes. All goats were destined for the works as the market for breeding does had long dried up.

“We were incredibly lucky living in Whanga. The population in the area was just like a giant family.”
Summer was spent eeling and chasing goats while in the winter possums were their target. If there was any down time they kept their bank balance healthy by cutting scrub.

Earning with eels

Eeling was their main income earner for which they had a licence. Ten to 14 tonnes would be caught in rivers over the summer using 45 set nets with the assistance of an outboard-powered Canadian canoe when required.

Nets were set against riverbanks and cleared from either the banks or by using the canoe. On occasions a helicopter would be used to fly them out of isolated locations however while this generated some excitement the economics of this exercise were marginal.

Their best eeling period was 40 continuous days with all 45 nets set.

“Eeling was physically as hard as shearing but a different sort of fitness was required.”

Eels were sold to a factory in Stratford at an average price of about $5/kg. The largest would weigh 13kg. Clint doesn’t believe the long-fin eel is an endangered species however he does concede diggers are destroying their habitat in some areas.

Winter was the time to “go bush” and set up poison lines for possums.

One year they spent a total of three months in the bush poisoning and skinning 5500 possums. The poison for one line took two days to lay generating 1690 skinned possums. Clint could skin an average possum in 30 seconds when fit. The average return from skins at the time was $2.70-$3.00 while a jug of beer cost $2.20.

Possum harvesting is still practised today. Clint sets poison lines in remote areas which means he has to skin them in the bush and carry them out. He generally sells about 1000 green skins a year for $5.00-$6.00 each. He has a strong affinity with the bush.

After the Toko farm (Huinga) was bought Rebecca and the children acquired 100 Tims traps and in consecutive years caught 600, 400 and 100 possums at which point the decision was made to withdraw the traps and allow the population to rebuild.

The Hutchinsons believe strongly in sustainably harvesting the local fauna and flora.

The large native tree block on their Marco farm is being harvested sustainably based on a 50-year plan. It involves a number of native species especially tawa and rimu. Logs are sold to a local timber merchant.

Feral goats from their three farms continue to be harvested and are brought back to a specialised one-hectare goat paddock at Huinga internally electrified with a wire about 400mm above the ground. Twelve hundred goats have been put through this paddock in the last two years generating $42,000. Clinton claims it’s the most valuable paddock on the farm.

Home base now for the Hutchinsons is their farm near Toko (Huinga) about 15 minutes east of Stratford. Huinga covers 688ha (607ha effective) one third of which is medium/easy country and the rest steep. It includes 90ha of 25-year-old pines. This is farmed as a sheep and cattle breeding and finishing unit with most of the lambs and cattle finished in the business leaving from here. This year 2000 finished lambs averaged 18kg and 100 R3 steers killed in May averaged 320kg carcaseweight. The business also sold 1000 store lambs in the autumn at 32kg liveweight and 100 store R3 steers in August at $1650.

Huinga is also home to 200 share-farmed beehives which are flown on and off the farm using a helicopter. Clint helps out with bee management on occasions.

Soils have a sedimentary base with ash covering the easier contoured areas. Rainfall is 1600mm.

Rebecca manages this farm from 9.00am to 3.00pm after which the post-school activities of their busy children become her priority. All the children are actively involved in the farming business.

Their 1200ha (607ha effective) farm they call Marco on the eastern side of Whangamomona on the FWH has 80ha of easier land around the farm buildings and the rest is steep. Much of it is in native bush. Its sedimentary soil is mainly papa and is subject to a high annual rainfall of 2500mm.

The farm is purely a breeding unit running, in conjunction with the Kahuratahi farm, about 2000 Perendale ewes, 600 replacement ewe hoggets, 200 R2 steers, 200 weaners and about 50 MA cows. Clint travels the one-hour journey there from Huinga about twice a week. Sometimes he will stay over however if there are major activities programmed these are scheduled for weekends when the whole family can participate.

The third farm of 186ha known as “The Main Road Farm” (MRF) is on the FWH near Kahuratahi 13km from the Marco farm. Its contour is medium/steep and generally has higher fertility than the other two. A higher ratio of cattle to sheep is run on this unit which probably explains the significantly higher lambing percentage achieved.

As many lambs as possible

The Hutchinsons’ sheep policy is to generate as many lambs as possible from their 4000 Perendale ewes and kill as many of these as possible off their mothers. This figure is generally 50% bolstered by mating 1500-2000 ewes to Poll Dorset rams. An annual draft of 600 Perendale ewes in lamb to Poll Dorset rams is sold in August releasing extra feed for the remaining ewes. This year these ewes made $180.

Lambing begins on August 20 with lambing percentages being 120-130% at Huinga, 140% on the MRF and 105% on Marco. Marauding pigs on the bush fringes can kill a significant number of new-born lambs. Last year 60 were shot in an endeavour to address the problem after 500 lambs were killed.

Clint believes one of the major limitations to higher lambing percentages is the low soil fertility of the hills which will be addressed as soon as significant surpluses become available.

“We’ve just got to farm the country the way it is at present and can’t expect miracles.”

Olsen phosphate levels on the flats average about 25.

Their Perendale rams are bought off Russell Profitt, of Pio Pio. Clint focuses on fecundity, structural soundness and strong wool when selecting the rams. The Hutchinsons breed their own Poll Dorset rams and sell any that are surplus to requirements.

About 800-900 Perendale replacement ewe hoggets are wintered.

The business calves about 150 almost pure Simmental breeding cows achieving a calving percentage of 95 from a three-month mating period beginning on December 1.

“A late calf doesn’t matter when killing steers at two and a half so we’re not in any hurry to pull the bulls out.”

Clint believes Simmentals handle the steep hills as well as any breed but concedes spending their formative years at Marco before being brought down to Huinga conditions them well for their later productive life.

Saved pasture awaits the cows at Huinga when brought down off the hills and on to the flats for calving behind a hot wire. Cows remain on the flats until the bulls go out/calf marking after which they are  returned to the hills.

Andrew and Tracy Neal (Potawa Simmentals) and Jon Knauf (Kerrah Simmentals) have supplied most of their Simmental bulls. The Hutchinsons have also bred the occasional ones themselves.

Some hand-reared dairy cross weaners are bought to supplement the numbers produced by the breeding herd. They also have a calming influence on the homebred ones. These are killed as R3s in the autumn. R2 steers weighing about 440kg in the autumn generally reach weights between 650-680kg at slaughter a year later as R3s. The Hutchinsons’ aim is to breed all their own weaners in the future and not to buy any.

Easier-contoured areas of Huinga are being developed by planting a summer finishing crop of pasja before returning them to pasture in the autumn. Last year it was 4ha, this year it was 8ha and next year it will be 16ha. Last year’s application of fertiliser also included plantain seed and Clint has been encouraged by its ease of establishment.

A six-tonne digger is responsible for doing some of the track work and some of the fencing on the three farms. Post holes are either dug using an augur on the digger or are simply driven into the ground using downward pressure.


The Hutchinsons’ focus up to now has been on accumulating enough land to provide them with an economic business unit. Now that they believe this has been achieved they will concentrate on improving soil fertility levels and maintaining infrastructure when surpluses become available.

“You see some farmers put all their spare cash into building new fences but pastoral farming is all about growing grass.”

Clint’s recipe for success and advice to young aspiring farm owners: “You’ve got to get the money in the bank early. If you’re 35 and you approach the bank for a loan with only $20,000 in your bank account the manager will just laugh at you.”



  • Clint and Rebecca Hutchinson and their four children.
  • Central/eastern Taranaki (Toko/Whangamomona)
  • Farm 2064ha of mainly medium/steep hill country.
  • Significant area of native bush.
  • Mainly sheep and cattle breeding and finishing.
  • Achieved farm ownership by harvesting eels, goats and possums.
  • Still harvesting goats and possums sustainably.
  • Started farming by leasing.
  • Initial objective to aggregate land.
  • Now entering the consolidation phase.



  • 4000 Perendale ewes.
  • 900 Perendale ewe hoggets.
  • 60 sire rams.
  • 150 Simmental and Simmental cross cows.
  • 40 R2 Simmental and Simmental cross heifers.
  • 50 weaner heifers.
  • 70 R3 steers.
  • 260 R2 steers.
  • 150 weaner steers.
  • 6 sire Simmental bulls.