In 2012, a report from the Federation of Livestock Farmer’s Association of Malaysia stated that 370 layer farms in the country produced 9,1 million eggs. Of this figure, about 1.5 million were exported to Singapore. In the same year, 48 million eggs were also exported to Hong Kong.
Tan Kow Choon, founder of Yong Suan Sdn Bhd, a wholesaler in Kajang who can sell up to 120,000 chicken eggs a day, can still remember the time when egg fever had yet to hit.
“Before the 1970s, there were very few poultry farms. The biggest one in Petaling Jaya then was Seng Seng Farm, which sold chickens but not eggs. The other farms were so small, they did not even have names,” recalled Tan, now 70.
As he recalls it, the egg boom began in the 1970s. The earliest players in Klang Valley then were clustered in Sungai Buloh, where the government had allocated land for poultry farms.
Among these were Selangor Farm and Kong Lien.
The companies that invested heavily then to achieve success are LTKM Bhd, which supplies hypermarkets today, and Lay Hong Bhd, which now has a production rate of 1.8 million eggs a day.
“At that time, chicken egg shells were white because poultry farmers were using Leghorns, a white-feathered Japanese breed.
“Today, they are brown (with the exception of duck eggs) as the farms are now using the Lohmann Brown and Hisex chicken breeds for better yields,” said Tan.
Tan, who once owned a poultry farm in Jurong, Singapore in 1967, said his farm produced 20,000 eggs with the help of 60,000 chickens.
“There are no guarantees, but per day, 100 chickens may give you 70 eggs. That is a conservative figure. Today, with better feed and breeds, it may go up to 80 eggs a day for the same number of chickens,” said Tan.
Layer chickens start producing at the age of 16 weeks and by the time it is sold at the age of 60 weeks, it would have yielded an estimated 200 eggs.
Old layer hens are said to produce the biggest eggs graded as “Jumbo A”. Such eggs can cost 42 sen each.
Business was so good in the 1970s and 1980s, that it was not unusual to hear of egg gluts.
Tan, who switched to egg wholesaling in 1975, remembers prices falling to as low as six sen, from 15 sen. This, Tan reckons, must have prompted the exporting of local eggs.
“I can still recall seeing off four Mercedes Benz 911 lorries, fully loaded with eggs at my old warehouse in Taman Suntex, Cheras, bound for the Singapore Port to Hong Kong,” said Tan.
It is interesting how the prices of eggs have risen since.
Tham Wah Suen, the owner of Wasson Food-Tech Sdn Bhd, the first company to make century eggs with chicken eggs instead of duck eggs, gives an insight to how prices are set.
“Every weekend, there is a meeting between representatives from the major entities in the egg business — wholesalers, farmers and the Veterinary Department — to decide on the prices, a figure which changes weekly.
“For example, last week the price of Grade B eggs were 39 sen. The week before, 37 sen,” said Tham, who was processing 300,000 century eggs under the Blossom brand every month.
Tham’s son, Shaw Jiun, said the prices of eggs had jumped some 14% in the last one and a half years.
In 2012, the price per Grade B egg was 25 sen. Looking at how the gradual price hikes have affected the consumer, Tham revealed that when he started in 1988, his century eggs were only 38 sen each. Now, it’s RM1.20.
Interestingly, this only applied to chicken eggs. Duck eggs, largely popular salted and preserved, were not as regulated. How it has escaped the price rise largely has to do with the bird’s habitat, reckoned Tham.
“Ducks are mostly bred free-range and they are known to lay their eggs in sand, not in cages like chickens. As the eggs are partly hidden, not all may be collected in time, thus influencing the yield,” said Tham.
At Yong Suan’s, daily sales of duck eggs easily top 10,000.
During the Mooncake and Dumpling Festivals, sales increase by tenfold.
When this happens, the first to suffer the adverse effects is the preserved egg sector, which has always relied on ducks for supply of its main ingredient. At times like these, a century egg maker may not be able to meet a quota of 54,000 per week.
Not wanting to be caught up in shortages explains why Tham started experimenting with the preservation of chicken eggs.
Recalling how he got the ball rolling with the chicken version of the century egg, Tham, who uses a curing formula made with a combination of liu bao tea leaves and a list of other secret ingredients, said his first customer was Lau Kon Hing Egg Dealer Sdn Bhd.
“They liked that my eggs were wrapped, covered in wax instead of mud and were lead free (the lead levels in Blossom Century Eggs have been measured at 0.0006ppm, below the required level at 2ppm),” said the 70-year-old Tham.
He is now leaving the running of his enterprise to his children, Shaw Jiun, Shaw Wei and Shaw Shiuan.
What made his venture a profitable one was the effort to study the curing process.
From his findings, he was able to shorten it from the required 50 days to 10 days.
For Endun Salam, the symbolic prominence of eggs have enabled the former 59-year-old banker to have a fuller life after retirement.
As the driving force behind Telur Pindang Istimewa Warisan, Endun and her daughter, Ennie Azreen Khalid, 34, churn out close to 3,000 tea eggs a week.
During peak periods, orders can touch 5,000 eggs.
Having set a minimum order of 250 eggs with starting prices of 90sen, it is not surprising why Ennie, who has a diploma in International Business from Politeknik Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (formerly known as Politeknik Shah Alam), opted to leave a full-time job to make this traditional delicacy.
But again, just like egg farming, the process of making telur pindang also comes with no guarantee.
“For every 1,000 eggs, expect 5% to crack,” said Endun, who ventured into the business three years ago when her first daughter got married and guests spread the word of her eggy talent.
Having invested some RM2,000 on the gargantuan pots needed for the three-day boiling process, Endun and Ennie reckoned that, as with everything in life, success was about putting in the right ingredient — passion.
New ideas are, of course, a great help.
Ennie, for example, has created a new line of patterned eggs and Tham has ventured into the making of organic century eggs.
So you ask, would regular eggs be making way for designer eggs who tout better nutritional benefits with omega 3 oils, selenium and DHA?
Tham Ming Ming, who has taken over the running of Yong Suan from his father, Kow Choon and has spent all his life with eggs, only has this to say, “Eggs are eggs. Final.”