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Visit A Goat Farm — But Avoid Wearing Bright Colours, He Says

This eight-part series delves into life in farms in Singapore — yes, farming exists here; no, it's not all kampongs and kelongs — and the new generation of farmers who are making farming hip. No straw hats involved.

Leon Hay, 38, is the second-generation boss and business director of Hay Dairies, the sole goat’s milk farm in Singapore. He works alongside his wife, who handles operations and accounts, at the Lim Chu Kang farm that currently houses 600 American mountain goats (“cousins of those mountain goats that jump off cliffs,” says Leon). The goats produce up to 3,000 litres of milk daily, which is sold on-site at the farm or via delivery. “Things were difficult when we first started the farm in 1988,” he recalls. “A lot of people couldn’t get used to the taste and smell of goat’s milk. We gave a lot of milk away to neighbours, or had to pour leftovers down the drain. But now we have loyal customers.”

How did you come to join your family business?

It was never really an official decision. My father never once asked me to take over his business. That’s just how he is. I’ve been working on the farm since I was 21, when I was in polytechnic. I even helped hammer some of the timber when we built our farm. After graduating from poly, I studied for a private accountancy degree at RMIT, and worked as an accountant at a shipping company for over a year. But I didn’t like wearing a suit and tie. I came back to help my father ’cos [I value] tradition. There aren’t a lot of Mr Hays left in the world now (laughs). A lot of youngsters don’t want this job. To them, working life is about wearing a nice Armani suit and pushing pens in an office. I won’t insist that my two daughters — they are 12 and nine — work here, but we’ll see if they are interested.

What’s a typical day at work like for you?

I do everything. I wake up at 7am, tend to the goats, do some equipment maintenance and conduct farm tours, and go over business planning with my wife. When pregnant nanny goats have difficulty giving birth, I have to help them pull the kid out too. You put both hands up in there and pull. It is gooey, disgusting and you sweat a lot. But after that, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling [knowing you’ve helped to deliver an animal’s baby]. My friends think my life is very good, ’cos I get to go home at 5pm — if nothing screws up. But my working hours are not fixed. With livestock, anything can happen. You are dealing with 600 goats with different temperaments, so you either laugh or cry for the day. But the good thing is that goats don’t talk back like human beings, ha! This job is not stressful, unlike when you have to work in an office with people. I saw what my supervisors went through when I was doing accounting, and they had to deal with all kinds of people. But there are just five of us working on this farm.

What are the perks of your job?

(Points to his tofu-like, smooth complexion) Look at my face! I drink a litre of goat’s milk every day. The milk is molecularly structured to regenerate skin cells. I don’t use any goat’s milk skincare — it’s best to drink it. It boosts your immunity too, ’cos the milk is rich in nutrients.

What’s one thing you’ve learnt on the job that they didn’t teach you in school?

Don’t wear bright colours on a goat farm. Goats are very timid [and averse to loud hues]. Once, my mother decided to change the colour of our polo T-shirt uniform from white to orange ’cos she thought white looked dull. When the goats saw me coming towards them in an orange shirt, they were too scared to move! They only got used to it a while later.

What are your hopes for Singapore’s farming industry?

We don’t want to just earn money selling goat’s milk. We want to educate the public on food subsistence, and that they’ve a farm in their backyard that they can go to. The AVA is trying to establish our food security so we don’t have to rely so much on imports. We are also working with a polytechnic on a heritage programme so we can teach the younger generations that Singapore is not just a concrete jungle!

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