Wednesday July 25, 2012
Former engineer and remisier finds his true calling managing farms
By YIP YOKE TENG
firstname.lastname@example.org Photos by LOW LAY PHON
Casey Teh can still clearly remember a painful part of his childhood.
His father would wake him up at dawn to tend to the small farm near their house. He spent countless sleepy mornings feeding chickens, chasing geese and planting vegetables.
Little did he realise the memories of “a poor man’s son” would eventually become the contentment he had searched for in life.
He had been an engineer for 10 years and a remisier for another 10, but only found his true calling of running a farm after experiencing many highs and lows.
As it turned out, he is good at farming, including the business aspects of it. He was among the firsts to open an ostrich farm in Semenyih, Selangor, in 1997.
He started out with 97 ostriches bought from South Africa, which grew to become a whopping 400 ostriches at its peak, before selling them to other farms. His farm now keeps 120 ostriches and a host of other petting animals that never fail to delight visitors.
In recent years, Teh, 49, ventured into the business of another fowl and it has caught the attention of many.
He is introducing guinea fowl, a bird native to Africa and raised in many parts of the world for food, as an alternative to chicken. Sprawled over 2ha of land in Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan, not far away from his ostrich farm, is an unassuming farm now keeping about 10,000 adult Guinea fowl and 2,000 breeder fowl.
Unlike most farms that serve a singular purpose, his is a combination of broiler and breeder farm all under one roof.
“According to the old-timers, this fowl could be found occasionally in Malay villages 20 to 30 years ago.
“They were called Ayam Api-Api but were usually raised as pets because of their nice black feathers and white speckles. The birds were not slaughtered until they turned very old, so that was why not many knew about their good taste and nutritional benefits,” said Teh.
Teh had kept guinea fowl at his ostrich farm for years, but did not know of their nutritional benefits until an officer from the Nigerian embassy came for a visit. He was ecstatic at the sight of the fowl and bought them weekly for their meat. He told Teh that the bird was consumed widely in his home country and it tasted great.
Curious, Teh tried the meat and was pleasantly surprised by its firm texture, which he said is better than that of free-range chicken.
The meat is smooth and flavourful, too. He did some research and discovered that the fowl offered a higher protein content and amino acids, and were low in fat. The species is also hardy and needs no antibiotics and supplements.
“At that moment, I thought, such a good thing should be made known to as many people as possible,” he recalled. That prompted him to invest about RM1.1mil on a new farm with modern equipment and infrastructure that cost him more than RM300,000.
The business, Agro World Incubator and Chicks Distribution, began in 2010 with 40 guinea fowl bought at RM40 each from Malay villagers. From 40 birds, the farm grew to its current size, proving the birds’ high fertility and resistance to illness.
He also gave the fowl a local name, Ayam Mutiara, as it is known as “Pearl Chicken” among the Chinese.
“I think it’s just my nature to run a farm. I suppose I talk to the animals more than I do to humans,” Teh said with a laugh.
“I do not feel tired tending to things at the farm, I can work till 11pm and still feel content at the end of the day,” he added.
The two farms require RM30,000 for animal feed, and RM20,000 for other montly expenditures such as salaries and electricity.
He needs a staff of eight to manage the place, which includes cleaning and sanitising it once a week. Several guard dogs keep pests at bay.
The fowl lay about 2,500 eggs a week, with 75% of them fertilised. Teh has achieved a hatchability rate of up to 75% using the incubator cum hatching machines he bought overseas. That means about 2,000 chicks are produced every week.
The fowl are slaughtered when they are 90 to 100 days old and weigh slightly more than 1kg.
The birds are deep frozen and vacuum packed before they are sent to wholesalers. Some restaurants and customers buy the birds directly from his farm at RM26 each.
“The farm is running well. The main challenge we face is the marketing of the product because the fowl is still new to Malaysians, a lot of promotion and education is required to grow the marker,” he added.
About 1,500 birds are sold monthly at the moment but in three months’ time, the farm’s output is set to reach 8,000.
He is working on expanding the sales outlets for his products.
Teh says farm makes about RM15,000 in revenue every month, but most of the amount is re-invested into the farm.