NZFarmer : January 13th 2009
www.straightfurrow.co.nz News Straight Furrow • January 13, 2009 15 Money grows on trees in the bush For a couple of Taranaki youngsters, possum plucking is proving to be an adventurous source of income. Jackie Harrigan reports S OUTH Taranaki youngsters Connor, 12, and Sean McColl, 10, say it is often hard to get out of bed to go and walk their possum trapping line, especially in winter, but they are reaping the rewards of their long hard days work. The Hurleyville brothers have been trapping, plucking and sell- ing possum fur for the past two years. Their perseverance has rewarded them handsomely, each earning over $5000 from selling possum fur for $105/kg. It takes the fur from around 18 possums to make 1kg and the boys have trapped up to 47 pos- sums daily from their line. They own 70 Victor traps, a smaller version of gin traps, and set them over various ridge lines usually 2-4km on their extensive farm, which comprises around 2500ha of bush and is at the southern end of the Patea dam. Each weekend and every day in the school holidays, they leave home at around 8am and tramp down the line, killing any pos- sums that are alive and plucking them while they are warm. The bare bodies are set aside to compost and the boys walk in a big loop taking them up to 8-10 hours. “You have to pluck them while they are warm or else the fur won’t come off,” said Connor, who sets the pace and tells Sean when it is time for a lunch break. “But it only takes about 3-4 minutes to pluck each one.” If the traps have been set there is no staying at home even on the wettest days, said their mother Fiona, as it’s inhumane to leave the possums in the trap for too long. Plus, they run the risk of losing possum and trap if the possum manages to pull out the staple holding it to the tree and disap- pears with it. The line is set at the start of the holidays and left on the ridge for as long as the numbers trapped are worth it. Once they drop below 10 or 15 daily, the boys take the staples out and back- pack the traps home, before planning their next line. “That’s pretty hard work,” said Connor, “but we have learnt how to spot possum runs and we put our traps there.” He said the pos- sums like to eat different trees at certain times of the year. “We like to trap the nice, open beech trees,” he said. “It’s always hard to get out of bed and go, but the job gets easi- er the more you do it, (both get- ting out of bed and plucking the possums). I really like the money and if the bush and the scenery is good – it’s a great way to make money.” Sean said his favourite things about it are the money and eating his lunch – sandwiches, apples and a muesli bar. The boys sell their fur after each school holidays to Stuart Bracegirdle at Egmont Skins and CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: Trappers Connor (left) and Sean McColl. spinning rubber flaps. The boys have found the machine extracts a heavier weight of fur from each possum, but that means they have to carry the carcases to the nearest road or paddock. Father Hugh helps Hannah, 11, and Tadhg, 7, to do a shorter trapping line and big brother Tom has 100 traps which he uses in a separate bush block when home from boarding school. Eldest brother Jack isn’t keen on possums and prefers to earn his money welding with an appren- ticeship at a local engineering firm. The five keen possuming sib- lings trapped 932 possums among them last holidays and all are also proficient with a skin- ning knife, including their mum. Connor says he can skin pos- sums hanging off a rope (the pos- sum not the boy) or on the ground, but Tom is the fastest. “He skinned a possum in 36 seconds last year when he was 15,” said Connor, with obvious pride. Above: The boys hard at work skinning possum. Right: Connor and Sean McColl display the efforts of their toil during 10-hour days on their parents’ South Taranaki farm. Hides in Inglewood, when they have a family trip to cash up their fur and go shopping in New Plymouth. They split the money 50:50 and both have healthy bank balances because they invest half and are allowed to spend the rest. Connor has invested in a gun to start his possum and deer hunt- ing career under the supervision of his parents. Sean bought a lap- top and both have bought new bicycles. Most of the rest of the McColl family are in on the action too, and they have invested in a plucking machine, which tears the fur off cold carcases with Possum skins are worth up to $12 each, but the price falls over the summer when they moult and the fur quality drops. The boys said they would never run out of possums to hunt and so plan to keep trapping each holiday. As far as spending the money goes, Sean thought it would be a good idea to lease a bit of land off their Dad so they could run their own sheep and cattle. “We’ll make heaps of money doing that,” he said. For now, Fiona is saving a for- tune in pocket money, and she has to put up with the family kitchen looking and smelling less than fresh only at the end of each day, when five or six wet and hungry possum hunters arrive home. She said they drop their clothes, soggy possum fur, knives, belts, hats, boots, and coats, all to be dried overnight above the woodstove ready for the next day’s onslaught.
January 20th 2009