Luke Tarson’s family had looked at a farm in South Otago when he was 12 years old. They missed out on the property – but from the first time he saw the hills and tussock, the young Cantabrian knew he would be back.
Eighteen months ago, Luke returned with his wife Rachael. Rachael manages a farm just outside Balclutha on the Balclutha-Owaka Highway while Luke runs Tarson Fencing and services a wide area from the Catlins to Teviot and West Otago.
Farming and fencing provide a perfect complementary existence for Luke and Rachael.
Making the call
Luke’s good fortune seemed to kick off when he made a phone call as a youngster. While still in Canterbury, Luke rang the neighbour of the Clinton farm that his Dad had looked at buying.
“I was 16. The farmer said I was way too young for a job, but I could come for tea. I went to tea.”
The next morning, Luke had a fulltime shepherding position. Two and a half years later, with a little more experience and a bit of money saved up, he headed to Lincoln to complete a Diploma in Farm Management.
The boss on that Clinton farm was an ex-fencing contractor. He had fenced his way into farming. During the winter fencing work, the farmer noted that Luke was picking up fencing skills quite quickly. He suggested Luke “could make something of them”.
“I probably didn’t give it a whole lot more thought until I was at Lincoln.”
The side hustle
Luke hadn’t met Jared Alloway before he headed to Lincoln. He just made another phone call. “I told him I was getting a wee bit bored and needed something to do on the weekends.”
“Jared was a phenomenal fencer. He wouldn’t compete because he fenced five days a week and wanted his weekends. If he did compete, he would have been quite something. One of those people who was just so efficient and with a real eye for detail. A real top fencer.”
“I ended up fencing for Jared every holiday through the year, and quite a few weekends. It was then that I thought ‘fencing could be a good thing’.”
Fencing really came to the fore a few years later. Luke had met Rachael, a Southlander. They were managing a farm in Slopedown on the edge of the Catlins at a time when Luke’s parents sold the home farm in Canterbury and moved up to the Manawatu.
“Dad passed away, so Rachael and I went North to develop that farm for Mum. We did about 30 kms of fence line in the summers. The hill country gets too wet and slippery in the winter so we thought it would be the perfect time to do an OE.”
No sooner had the pair arrived in England, Luke discovered he hated London with a passion. Rachael found a phone number on a UK job site for a fencing contractor. She made a call!
Within days the pair found themselves in the Chilton Hills with Luke fencing and Rachael managing a slew of 10-acre lifestyle blocks and their inhabitant sheep.
Not surprisingly, the couple’s skills were missed back in New Zealand. On return, Luke’s Mum’s neighbours were already lining up, ringing and asking Luke and Rachael to do their farm fences.
“I thought, maybe we might be onto something fulltime, and Tarson Fencing began!
Following the heart
Both Luke’s and Rachael’s hearts were anchored in South Otago. An opportunity came up for Rachael to manage a farm down South. It took a mere reassurance by the new boss that the whole country was short of fencers, and they were off.
The bulk of Luke’s work is waterways, riparian, and wetlands, most through the Pomahaka Wetland Restoration project using netting and hot wire to keep sheep and cattle out. Work has flowed in.
“There’s a lot to do fencing off waterways as well as replacing and rebuilding fences from the 70s and 80s development boom. Every local contractor already has an existing client base so I fill the gap for waterways fencing fairly well. Also, many contractors have waiting lists, so they have been quite happy with me taking up the slack.”
“With many good-sized jobs on the go, I thought we could get out quicker if we fire the staples in rather than putting them in by hand. I picked up a Stockade ST400i power stapler and noticed the speed straight away. All our waterways work has hot wire, and I wouldn’t be without the Stockade stapler tool for the insulators.”
There hasn’t been a spare week in the year and a half since Luke’s and Rachael’s arrival in South Otago. Business is good and now Joseph Tarbotton, Luke’s brother, has also come on board.
One thing Luke loves about fencing is the flexibility. “I am my own boss so I can give Rachael a hand on the farm, and I don’t need to check with anyone if I can take time off.”
Luke says if someone enjoys variety, being outside and a bit of physical work, then fencing is a good career.
“Once you start fencing it becomes a little addictive. The competitive nature of it is like shearing, you are always trying to hit more out. But it is not like shearing in that there are 50 blows on every sheep. Every fence line is different, different challenges, different ground types, different farmers, different farms.”
It seems incredible that it is only 13 years since a 16-year-old lad made a phone call. Now Luke and Rachael are living their dream of farming and fencing in the beautiful South Otago landscape. Their future looks bright.
Luke says if you are thinking of getting into fencing “Call a fencing contractor!”