Going Back to Nature Comes Naturally

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Horses grazing at Countryside Stables Penang.

Balik Pulau is fast becoming a haven for goats, horses and pigeons. People are flocking to south-western Penang island to own or visit rustic estates where both hearts and animals can roam free.

No Horsing Around

When Wan Adam was five years old, he would frequently pass by a signboard advertising horse-riding at the Tanjung Country Club when on car journeys. The sign, which hung near a traffic light, piqued his curiosity. Every time a red light caused the car to stop near the sign, Wan Adam would memorise a digit of the telephone number on it.

“Once he had the full number he gave it to me and said he wanted to learn horse riding. I didn’t even think it was the right number, but when I called it was indeed the club!” says his mother, Doris Lim.

She and her husband, Wan Aikhsan Wan Jamil, felt there was no harm in trying it out – but neither guessed it would be the beginning of a lifelong passion for the entire family. Waiting for Wan Adam to finish his lessons became a bore for his parents, and so both decided their time would be better spent learning to ride as well.

When lessons and practice became more frequent, they invested in their own horse – Mas Kuning, from Thailand. One horse became two, and two became more with the family finally stabling 15 of their own horses at the Tanjung Country Club. “My son became a good rider and we’ve never looked back since,” Wan Aikhsan, 56, says. Wan Adam represented Penang in endurance riding.

When the Tanjung Country Club ceased operations in 2007, Doris and Wan Aikhsan began to think seriously about the future and well-being of their horses. Not wanting the beautiful beasts to be constantly moved around, the couple purchased a 1.6ha plot of land on the state’s west coast. “At the time, we had no intention of it being a business. It was just a place where our horses could be well taken care of,” Doris, 50, says.

Doris and Wan Aikhsan.

People and ponies, however, have always had a natural connection and soon Countryside Stables Penang began receiving visits from horse lovers and nearby villagers. To better maintain the property, the couple decided to formalise the estate with specific opening hours, entrance fees and structured activities for guests. They also expanded their team, bringing in adorable miniature horses from Australia so that children weighing less than 15kg could experience riding. Their stables now house 47 horses from countries like Argentina, Australia, Uruguay and the Czech Republic; a family of deer; and Chico and Chica, a pair of donkeys from New Zealand – a gift to the stables from the royal family of a neighbouring state.

The establishment welcomes walk-in visitors daily from 2pm, while mornings are reserved for groups of 40 and above. Besides families (or “parents bringing their children and children bringing their parents” as Wan Aikhsan fondly puts it), the stables also play host to many special needs children, particularly those on the autism spectrum who seem to benefit from interaction with these affectionate animals.

Children enjoying a carriage ride during a birthday party held at Countryside Stables Penang.

As one of the more established animal estates in Balik Pulau, Countryside Stables Penang has seen up to a thousand visitors on Sundays and public holidays alone, welcoming some 5,000 people during the busy tourist months of the year. While the couple is not looking to expand the property, a garden and an in-house cafe may be on the cards.

“When you see children who refuse to leave, or adults who are afraid at first but end up riding, you know this whole thing is worth it,” Wan Aikhsan says.

Countryside Stables Penang is located at Lot 603, Jalan Hilir Sungai Burung, Kampung Jalan Baru, 11000 Balik Pulau.

A Dream Come True 

At just nine years old, Sam Lim was already fond of pigeons and spent a large chunk of his free time catching and befriending them.

“If you catch them and care for them, they will come back to you. Even if you take them a couple of kilometres away and let them go, they’ll find their way back. With people, you can teach them one day and the next they’ll turn on you, but pigeons don’t. If you give them food, they are always your good friends,” Sam laughs.

This mutual fondness between Sam and the birds, however, was to the chagrin of his neighbours who cringed at the presence of what many consider pests. “I said to myself, one day, I must own a piece of land where nobody can complain or stop me,” he says.

Dreams, however, are often long journeys and it would take Sam three decades before his came true. “After school, I worked as an office boy in a building materials company and later became branch manager. In 1988, I opened my own business and was quite successful until (the financial crisis of) 1997, when I had to close shop,” he says.

Sam Lim.

Not wanting to worry his parents, Sam dressed for work and left the house each morning pretending he had found another job. He would offer his services as a driver to friends, but eventually the weight of his financial debts and obligations bore down heavily on him. On a whim, he followed a friend to Medan, Indonesia to help in a timber business for a month.

“In the mornings when you were working it was okay. But at night when you were free you would start to ask yourself how you got into this situation – away from your family and children – in a place where you don’t know anyone. I know how foreign workers who come here to work feel,” he says.

Sam decided to leave before the month was up but managed to befriend a number of village heads in the area who asked if there were any jobs in Penang for the many unemployed young people there. Motivated by inspiration and empathy, Sam slowly started connecting local companies with potential workers in Medan and eventually opened a foreign worker consulting business which he still leads today.

In August 2004, Sam paid his last debt instalment and started to dream again. He put two children through university and saved enough to buy land in Balik Pulau a few years later, eventually opening two establishments: a no-frills homestay and events space in Pulau Betong called Audi Guesthouse, and Audi Dream Farm in Sungai Rusa. Both are named after the famous German automobile maker.

Audi Dream Farm is a beautiful, wellkept petting zoo providing a no-barriers experience with bright budgies (commonly known as lovebirds) and fluffy, friendly rabbits. The 1ha estate also invites visitors to roam freely along the small, stone pathways that wind around families of deer, goats, fish, geese and hamsters (to name just a few); and an impressive no-chemical vegetable garden.

And of course, the culmination of Sam’s dream would hardly be complete without a special area for some 500 fancy pigeons (just a quarter of Sam’s 150-breed personal collection). Most of them, with their brightly-coloured streaks, feathered hoods and bell bottom-like feet, bear little resemblance to our local birds.

This extensive undertaking, which opened to the public in November 2014, charges a token entrance fee of RM3 for children and RM7 for adults, while senior citizens enter free. Though it has yet to turn a single month’s profit, Sam stresses that he is thankful for the venture.

“I bought my own land and I built my own things. Compared to other people, I am very, very lucky. I have a place where everyone can share in my dream without needing a big budget. I tell my friends that in town, my business is to make money; in Balik Pulau, my goal is to make happiness.”

Audi Dream Farm's sunflower garden, which blooms every month of the year, is a favourite among young and old alike.

Audi Dream Farm is located at 145, MK B, Sungai Rusa, 11010 Balik Pulau.

Kids Will Be Kids

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm is a small familyrun farm and home to more than 160 goats. The owner’s daughter Ho May Teng, 21, says the light-coloured billies and nannies are of the Saanen goat breed, named after a region in Switzerland.

“Switzerland is quite far to import goats from, so we got ours from Australia and New Zealand – the nearest places where you can find Saanen goats. Saanen are dairy goats. Generally, there are two types of goats – dairy goats and meat goats. Dairy goats can be slaughtered for their meat while meat goats don’t normally produce a lot of milk,” she says.

Visitors at the rabbit and hamster enclosure.

However, as dairy goats cost a good four times more than meat goats on average (around RM4,000 compared to RM800-RM1,000), it did not make business sense to rear Saanen goats for slaughter, May Teng explains.

Each doe on the farm produces about 700ml of milk daily – not a bad amount for the farm but a far cry from the average production the same breed of goat achieves in countries with cooler climates. Farm owner Ho Juan Aun, 48, says that the goats lose a lot of liquid through perspiration, thus reducing milk production.

“When a doe gives birth at our farm, we don’t milk her for the first three months as she will be feeding the baby goat. Sometimes, the kid prefers to drink from one side more than the other (teat), so we have to monitor this and milk the other side to prevent the goat from getting mastitis,” Juan Aun says.

Does are then milked in pairs at the farm for three to four months using motorised equipment that does the job in one to two minutes on average. May Teng explains that the kids start trying solid food – primarily grass, though they are known to test your clothes, hair and generally anything they can get their mouths around – at one and a half months. “The goats’ milk production peaks after they give birth and generally decreases as time goes by. When the does are nine to 10 years old, they also go through menopause which further reduces milk production,” she says.

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm owner Ho Juan Aun, 48, and his daughter May Teng, 21, with two kids at the farm.

As well as mastitis, menopause and the tendency of the young offspring to put anything they can into their mouths, there are some more similarities between these loveable mammals and humans. Goats, like many people, are rather particular about where their food has been and will try to avoid patches of grass that have been nibbled on by other goats, May Teng says. Additionally, like human babies, if you are the one to wield the bottle you become a fast favourite.

“We do bottle feed some kids, especially where the mother has died or there is not enough milk being produced for the baby goat,” Juan Aun says, adding that a mixture of goat’s milk and formula is used. The kids are extremely playful, he relates, and those that he forges relationships with will literally climb over his head.

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm was established in 2005 but only opened its doors to visitors in 2009. Admittance is free of charge (with feeding grass available for all), excluding large groups as they must call ahead.

Baby goats roaming the stables at the farm.

“We provide a guide for big groups and charge RM7 per person but this amount is actually just to cover the goat’s milk that we give visitor groups,” May Teng says.

A tourist site with no entrance fees is a bit of a gamble, but the Ho family says most visitors contribute to the farm by buying the goat milk products on sale. Among them are soap, ice cream, yogurt, pudding, steamed buns and donuts – all made using milk produced and pasteurised at the farm.

“We sell our milk to agents in KL, Perak and Penang and also deal directly with individual customers, like families whom we courier milk to every month,” May Teng says.

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm is located at 298 Mukim 1 Sungai Pinang, 11010 Balik Pulau.



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