Want to reconnect and give back to the planet? Try countryside living like Edmund Yong has been doing since 2004.
Yong gave up his IT and office renovation businesses in the Klang Valley, moved with his wife and dogs to Kampung Gali Hilir in Raub, Pahang and took up chicken farming.
“It seemed challenging at the time but we wanted to do it while we had the energy,” says Yong, 44, who was inspired by Gene Logsdon’s book, The Contrary Farmer, which offers practical advice to those looking at a sustainable lifestyle and part-time cottage farming.
“One of the reasons we made the switch was because of the love for our dogs. We wanted space for them to run around and a pond for them to swim in,” he explains.
The Yongs scouted around Raub and settled on a 2.8ha piece of land with rubber and durian trees. They built their house and moved Bassey and Reno (Labradors); Kimi (Beagle), Ranger (Rottweiler) and Mac (French Mastiff). Today, they have 10 dogs.
Yong’s wife, Patricia Pan Yu Ling, who still runs her children’s apparel business in Kuala Lumpur, stays in Raub on weekends and holidays.
For the first 18-months, Yong worked hard to clear the land. After that, his friend Jimmy Tan moved into the same plot with his family. The Yongs and Tans live, share and work on the same piece of land and co-own a free-range chicken farm called Our Little Farm.
“It’s labour-intensive because we don’t use weed killers or pesticides. In fact, we lost Furry, our Golden Retriever, when she ingested some harmful fungicide buried in a shallow hole by the previous owners,” recalls Yong. “It was a painful experience for us.”
Yong and Tan knew nothing about raising chickens, so they read books.
“From using the keyboard and mouse, we have learned to wield tools to build the barns, use the knife to harvest, process and freeze chickens,” says Yong who stills does part-time IT work. “We learned to cook our own food instead of just eating out all the time.”
Raising hormone-free, 90- to 100-day-old chickens (as opposed to 45-day-old ones) has been tough, but the experience has been enlightening.
“It’s difficult to see the cute chicks grow into adult birds and survive the odds only to be killed for food. Somehow you get attached to them so we have the utmost respect for our birds — their sacrifice allows us to live,” says Yong philosophically.
The farm recycles plant material into foraging material for the birds. Droppings are collected to fertilise their plants. Recently, they constructed a well for water supply but testing indicated a high mineral content in the water. Treatment is required before it’s potable. For now, the farm has to rely on piped water.
Yong reckons the simple pleasures of life more than make up for all the hard work.
“We wake up to birds chirping. We have breakfast with a view of trees and blue skies, and enjoy fantastic views of the heavens at night,” says Yong.
“We used to think everything happened in an instant. Out in the country, you realise there is a season for everything — different tasks or work suitable for different times of the year. Patience is key. Farming without harmful substances isn’t the most economical or efficient way. It’s more about doing the right thing,” says Yong.
The farm delivers chickens directly to their consumers in Klang Valley on a weekly basis, bypassing the middleman.
“We’re trying to form a supportive community that demands healthy alternatives, but awareness and education is our main challenge,” Yong admits.
They plan to raise other livestock, plant organic vegetables and produce more local fruits.
Yong’s advice for those who want to make the lifestyle change: make small changes.
“That’s better than one big drastic change. Give yourself time to adjust and don’t expect immediate financial returns. Don’t quit your job just yet. Lastly, and most importantly, you’ll need a supportive wife.”