Sabah holiday 2015: Happy chickens, reluctant farmers

TUARAN, Sabah.

Want the healthiest, happiest, free-range organic chickens in Sabah? Meet Anna and John, the reluctant chicken farmers.

“They’re intelligent, you know,” Anna said. “We raise them as chicks, they recognise you, you feel their little hearts beating, they know you are bringing food to them.”

Hmm.

We walked through a coop and Anna bent down, picked up an egg. “Still warm! This is life!” She sighed.

Old Man Rooster
Old Man Rooster

Here’s one of the old-time roosters on their chicken farm, one who definitely knows his role and how to go about it. But not all the roosters get the point! “Some of the roosters become excited, but they are confused and just don’t know how to impregnate a hen!” That’s a shame. Sounds like the old-timer isn’t sharing any tips.


Similarly, those hens who get lucky don’t have the brooding instinct, and their eggs are incubated.

The only chickens who aren’t like that are kampong (village) chickens (ayam kampong). “These are wild birds,” Anna said. “They roam completely free, running around the kampong. They mate, the hens sit on their eggs and hatch their own chicks. They live the way nature intended them to live.”

Kampong chickens are much smaller and leaner than supermarket ones, and the Chinese in particular like them for superior taste and tender, lean meat.

“I once put about ten of them in a large coop, but these birds are just too wild! They fought each other overnight and the next day half of them were dead. I never did that again,” said Anna.

She then arranged a small but regular supply of kampong chickens, but the moment they came in they were snapped up. She couldn’t keep any stock, and started to feel bad about it too.

“There are not many kampong chicken left, soon they might be extinct! I don’t want to be part of that.”

Here was the solution – the Silkie chicken!

a silkie chicken
a silkie chicken

more silkie chickens

Silkie chickens are the next best thing to kampong chicken, and are in high demand from restaurants. Anna showed me their black skins underneath all that white fluff, they have feathery legs and even have five toes!

It must be pretty boring being a chicken, right? So I try and vary their diet. They get corn, beans, some other suitable veggie for chickens, a bit of bread. I know they don’t live very long but I hope at least they are happy while they are with me.
Anna Tam

Here are the hens whose sole purpose is to lay eggs for sale.

Chickens whose eggs are for sale
Chickens whose eggs are for sale

“We sell all our organic eggs very quickly,” Anna said. “We used to keep back a few for ourselves, but the demand is so high we sell them all now.” At the moment they sell for 80 Malaysian cents an egg, and Anna and John do home delivery.

The lovely organic eggs aren’t the only thing John and Anna don’t eat.

“After we raised all these chickens like our babies, I wasn’t able to eat them,” John said.

But Anna will occasionally cook a chicken, and John will have some chicken soup.

Anna described the first time she brought home a chicken to kill and cook. “I picked it up, and it just knew. It started squarking wildly and defecating all over me. By the time we had cooked it… no appetite.”

“Since then, we believe they are intelligent and we are very strict about how they are killed. We come in the morning, choose the birds, they go straight to the slaughterhouse and are killed right away. Other businesses don’t do that! They might line up thousands, waiting all day. The chickens must know what is happening and they can see their friends across the other side all dead. I think they must all be mad by the time it’s their turn.”

“And when we choose our chickens for slaughter, the ones left behind don’t make noise for ten minutes,” said John.

This farm is a small test site, to learn about the business before scaling up operations. I think the chickens have a pretty good life as chickens go! I’m not sure about Anna and John :). Better get your chickens from them now!

Here’s Anna and one of her hens. Sorry about the glare.

Anna and a hen
Anna and a hen

Here is some information from them.

Small free range chicken farm in Tuaran (tel: 012-828 2623)

We run a small farm in Tuaran breeding free range chicken for our own consumption with some sold to organic shops and to friends.

Our chickens are:
– free from hormones
– fed with corn, bread, bean and veggie
– bred over 3 months

Our products include:
1. Meat chicken, RM22/kg
2. Bald chicken, RM22/kg
3. Kampung chicken, RM26/kg
4. Silky/ black chicken, RM23/no (purebred with 5-7 claws, skin, meat and bones all in black)
(Slaughter house charges RM2/ chicken for slaughtering and cleaning)
5. Free range chicken egg and silky chicken egg RM0.8/no (normal size), RM1/no (large size)

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