The above photo of a food forest taking shape speaks not of apparent chaos, but rather, a calculated statement of resilience and design, with a dash of chance coming together. It’s a statement of rising above difficulties and carving a “niche” for oneself. That niche, no matter how personal, is what contributes value to one’s uniqueness.
Such uniqueness is often seen and treasured even in natural ecosystems as they all merge to form what is known as biodiversity. With biodiversity comes resilience.
It is indeed with this biodiversity that the chickens at the farm are flourishing in performance in spite of all the difficulties faced. The chickens have broken another record to date. Three days ago, I obtained 179 free-range pasture-raised kampung chicken eggs (from kampung asli and colored broilers) in just within a week with a retail value of RM 200. That’s an average of 25 chicken eggs a day. Estimated feed cost alone (rice bran/broken rice only) for this 7-day period at no more than RM 43.40.
To further supercharge my profitability, I’m currently embarking on an ongoing experiment to use EM fermented grated coconut waste and occasional minimal use of dried sponge cake waste to further cut half my feed cost.
Just three days later, I am averaging at an increased 30 chicken eggs a day. If my projection is correct, I should be hitting 35-40 chicken eggs a day in the following days or week ahead. That means I will have 1.5 trays of chicken eggs daily in another week or so! (if the favourable conditions are consistently met).
Riding on this increased in free-range and pasture-raised kampung chicken eggs production alongside a downward trend of feed costs (given current practices of minimal use of broken rice, increased use of DIY feed and rotational grazing), I should be looking at a chicken egg revenue of RM 280 – 300 weekly with a feed-cost-only expense of RM 20-30. That’s quite a good return given the “amateurish” operation I’m running here (but no less environmentally sustainable approach employed). But is this even financially sustainable?
That’s the question I’ve been grappling with for the past almost 3 years as I chugged along (without a full time worker) with an economically-challenged business amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly, since the worker came onboard full time on 1 Feb 2022, there have been plenty of slow but steady improvements. I can only hope in anticipation that in 3-6 months, we will be getting into the groove with all the systems and procedures put in place running like clockwork.
The paddock rotational system I’m employing for the chickens/ducks seems to be working well along with a constantly being improved feed system. The Muscovy and Khaki Campbells are also slowly putting out more free-range pasture-raised duck eggs after an almost 10 month long hiatus! Papayas and bananas are also beginning to pull their own weight by giving a satisfactory return though meager in the bigger picture. But then again, the idea is to diversify revenue streams in an environmentally and sustainable manner.
The main income generator after durians at the moment is chicken and duck eggs (meat is secondary if any), followed by bananas and papayas, birds eye chilies, limes, etc. The kelulut honey from the 10 logs of stingless bees colonies brought in end of 2021 should be ready for harvests in another month or so (when time permits). This “high value crop” would help tip the income scale in my favour as a reliable moneymaking component that should do much heavy lifting for me in the background. To top it all, the Damara sheeps should be arriving in a month or two after an almost 1.5 years of delay. Given all these rather promising development, is small-scale permaculture farming still financially sustainable?
The short answer is a resounding NO, at least for me, for now. As such, I’ve been mulling over the possibility of going back to employment since Oct 2021. I’ve run the numbers and weighed all my options. The results speak for themselves and it was a matter of time before it got increasingly clear what my next course of actions would be.
As of upcoming March 1, 2022, I will be embarking on both a personal and professional enrichment journey that would see me going back to corporate employment in an area of interest closest to my heart: sustainability. It would be a major confluence at this juncture of my life, as I bring together various expertises I’ve built from two decades of multiple roles I’ve played in IT, sales/marketing/business, corporate branding, visual arts, still/motion picture, copy writing, consulting and natural/permaculture farming. Truly, I’ve been a Jack of all trades master of none.
At a glance, these different hats I’ve worn seem incongruous and at times, deemed a “wasteful” meandering in contrast to the often-revered mainstream linear career progression of having climbed the corporate ladder in large MNCs. Indeed I’ve taken the road less travelled and despite the rather unusual outcomes, I’m beginning to cherish the extremely unique development path I’ve experienced and built for myself. In fact, I’m certain not many have undergone the colourful journey I’ve tavelled in four decades of my life: the biggest risk in life is not taking risks, as the proverbial maxim goes. I took many risks, and there are no regrets.
Had it not been for this mottled painting on life’s canvas, I would not have been perfectly prepared for the wonderful road ahead. I’m literally perched on the cusp of transitioning into a realm of unlimited possibilities that would position me to harness my natural potential as an individual that is unique to me and only me alone. I’m truly glad that it has turned out the way it has and I believe there are nuggets of truth and revelation to be gleaned from one’s apparent difficulties, misfortune and uncertainties.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to give up on the farm. I will never do that. Natural and sustainable food production systems using integrated farming methods will always be something I hold dearly to my heart. I’m just merely making a detour in life. The farm’s activities and growth will run parallel to the many breakthrough commitments that are beginning to materialize as I pen this: permaculture consultancy with a reputable estate, exclusive photography project of a heritage space in the aforementioned estate and the opportunity to work with a leading local organisation on sustainable computing.
This drastic change in my life with added responsibilities would certainly throw my schedule and routine into great imbalance. In short, I’m literally working 4 jobs come March 2022! As unfortunate and daunting as that may seem, it is something that I have to manage and prioritize at this point in time. After all, the relentless climate change and global warming don’t take a break, so why should I?
Meanwhile, the fate of the farm rests entirely in God’s hands and how much I “let it go” into His care. Physically, my full time worker (and his soon-to-join wife) would be fighting tooth and nail on the ground to close the gap between calculated and optimized design with real-world execution and reality to achieve profitability and both financial and environmental sustainability.
The goal is clear for me as a small scale micro rural permaculture farmer: stay in the fight for as long as I can and do whatever it takes to achieve food sovereignty and ultimately food security, while pushing back the onslaught of climate change effected by failing unsustainable systems and policies; even if that means, momentarily getting out of the fight and relooking the entire attempt from the ringside.
Whatever it takes indeed.