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‘Considered going out of business’: RSAF pilot turned ostrich farmer on harsh realities of business in Johor

PENGERANG, Johor: As Colin Teh was walking across the sands of Desaru Ostrich Farm, one of the dozens of flightless, furry-feathered birds he owned bit his leash.

The 70-year-old farmer barely flinched. Teh held out his hand, gently stroking his feathers. The 2.5m tall ostrich, with its long neck, fiercely pecked its beak with its bare hands.

“When they peck their fingers, it is a sign of affection, not aggression. It’s a sign that we accept you as a friend,” said the Singaporean.

“It doesn’t hurt at all. They are very lovable creatures,” Teh added.

Teh’s special bond with his ostrich goes back many years. He has been raising African black-necked ostriches since 1995.

Today, Desaru Ostrich Farm, located in Pengerang, Johor, is one of the largest farms in Malaysia. It is also popular with Singaporean tourists visiting Johor for a day trip or short vacation.

In a recent interview with CNA from his farm, Teh looked back on his career and the sacrifices he had to make to stay in business over the past 28 years.

Despite the challenges he’s faced, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Teh said he’s glad he’s decided to pursue his passion.

Suspension of flights for agriculture

Teh’s journey as a farmer began with gambling.

In the ’80s, Teh graduated as a military pilot in the Singapore Air Force. He was deployed early as an instructor training pilot cadets.

Teh, who resigned from RSAF in 1994, said, “I didn’t fit in with the organization and I decided to quit flying shortly thereafter.”

“I decided to pursue agriculture, which is my passion,” he added.

He acknowledged that many people are leaving jobs that pay well and are considered “iron rice bowls”. However, Teh was adamant that he would replace the pilot’s uniform with an agricultural overalls.

On a trip to South Africa in 1995, he visited an ostrich farm and made friends with large flightless birds.

He thought that raising ostriches, which are easy to breed, could also be profitable.

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