The chicken link to better vegetables

The chicken link to better vegetables

Lush lettuce, red and green, juicy passion fruit and ginseng berries and Ceylon spinach so fresh, they are ready to eat without a rinse.

All these are being grown on farms across the Causeway with a special ingredient: a Singapore-developed fertiliser that came from some very special chickens.

These antibiotic-free fowl, from chicken farms in Johor owned by home-grown Kee Song Group, are fed food and water infused with Lactobacillus, which are "good bacteria" - certain strains of which can be found in drinks such as Yakult and Vitagen.

Not only is their meat lower in fat and cholesterol, but the chickens' droppings, which contain traces of Lactobacillus, have also turned out to be an excellent fertiliser, doing away with the need for chemical pesticides.

Plants grown using this fertiliser are more resistant to bugs, grow bigger, and are richer in phytochemicals - which studies suggest can reduce the risk of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, stroke and other diseases.

Dr Chia Tet Fatt, the scientist behind the technology, said this is because the Lactobacillus "get rid of unhealthy pathogens in the soil", creating a more conducive environment for the plants to grow in.

Dr Chia is the director of Otemchi Biotechnologies, a Singapore firm that specialises in the Lactobacillus technology and is working with Kee Song on the project.

Of the 6,000 to 20,000 chickens Kee Song exports to Singapore every month, about 70 per cent are premium grade - which means no antibiotics and growth hormones are used in the rearing process.

It also collects about 300 tonnes of droppings each month which are sent to its eco-farm for processing, in which more Lactobacillus are added to the manure during a 120-day fermentation period.

The fermentation also gets rid of any stench.

Then the fertiliser is sent to vegetable and fruit farms engaged by Otemchi, which exports Ceylon spinach, kangkong and sweet potato leaves to Singapore.

Available at supermarket chain Sheng Siong since last month, these vegetables cost between $1.20 and $1.55 a pack - more than regular vegetables. Still, said Dr Chia, this is cheaper than organic vegetables which typically cost more than $2 per pack.

"We want to make it more economical, so we decided to price the vegetables between the premium and normal ranges," said Mr James Sim, business development manager at Kee Song Group, which together with Otemchi markets the vegetables under the Old Farmer brand.

Kee Song's poultry division is the first in South-east Asia to successfully rear chickens on a large scale without feeding them any antibiotics and growth hormones.

Otemchi's Lactobacillus technology, which has already attracted interest from Brazil and South Korea, will be showcased at the Food and Hotel Asia 2014 trade show at the Singapore Expo next month.

"It is environmentally friendly," said Dr Chia. "It's a contribution from Singapore to the rest of the world."

How it's made

Stage 1:
At three of the eight farms owned by Kee Song Brothers Poultry, chickens are given "good bacteria" called Lactobacillus in their food and water. The Lactobacillus help reduce the amount of disease-causing bacteria.

Stage 2:
The manure, which contains the chickens' droppings, is collected roughly every 40 days. It undergoes a 120-day fermentation process, in which more Lactobacillus are added.

Stage 3:
The fertiliser is sent to vegetable farms under Otemchi Biotechnologies in Johor and Malacca to be used on crops such as Ceylon spinach and kangkong. No chemical fertilisers are added to the crops.

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