• The sheep farm at Pha Tang Agricultural station in Chiang Mai’s Jom Thong district.
  • Nohkueke Phoophaavorn, a villager in Mae Klang Luang, shows how to weave wool.
  • Black-bone and Bresse chicken
  • An experimental sturgeon pond in Mae Klang Luang on Doi Inthanon

Home on the range

lifestyle October 15, 2017 01:00

By Ekkarat Sukpetch
The Sunday Nation

3,446 Viewed

The Royal Projects in northern Thailand successfully add fish raising and animal husbandry to their activities



VISITORS TO the Royal Projects in Thailand’s North know full well that they will be treated to the sight of colourful flower gardens, fruit orchards and field after field of vegetables. But the Royal Project Agricultural Centre has far more to offer the curious tourist, with an ever-increasing amount of space on the mountain being given over raising rainbow trout and sturgeon as well as pigs, chickens and pheasants and sheep.

The sheep farm at Pha Tang Agricultural station in Chiang Mai’s Jom Thong district. 

Initiated by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Royal Project Foundation set up the Royal Agricultural Station Angkhang in 1969 to conduct research into the temperate fruits, flowers and vegetables from which the villagers could earn a decent living. Today it has taken the project a step further and is encouraging local residents to raise livestock in the highlands. 

“We educate villagers to combine agriculture and animal husbandry and through the Royal Project Development Centres in Khunpae, Wat Chan and Pang Da, we are running workshops on how to feed Bresse and black-bone chickens and sheep,” says Nuttkarn Maneethong of the development and livestock department.

“We are already producing ready-to-eat foods such as smoked Bresse chicken, black-bone chicken dumplings and charcoal black-bone chicken buns as well as organic eggs from our Bresse and black-bone hens.” 

Bresse chicken have plenty of room to move in their hen house.

Importing them from France in 1990, the Royal Project spent three years researching the best ways to breed Bresse chicken in the highlands. Famous for the smooth texture of its meat, the chickens boast three colours similar to the French flag –a white body and beak, a red cockscomb and dark blue legs – and thrive in cool pastures,

“We give the villagers two-week-old chicks and the villagers spend three to four months feeding them. We guarantee the prices by buying all their produce. The hens should weigh 2 to 2.30 kilograms while roosters can reach 2.5 to 2.7 kg.”

The Royal Project also encourages villagers to raise the native black-bone chickens, which originated in China and have long been popular in Thailand’s northern region. Fed with corn-mixed instant food and vegetables, the breed gets its name from its black mouth, tongue, face, cockscomb, feathers, skin, palate and legs.

Black-bone and Bresse chicken 

Black-bone chicken is high in protein, has no cholesterol, triglycerides or fatty acids and is rich in antioxidants, melamine and carnosine – all beneficial to the immune system. 

“We produce about 1,500 Bresse and black-bone chickens a month. Our selection of ready-to-eat poultry dishes are available at the Royal Project shops in Bangkok and we sell the whole chickens in Chiang Mai. We buy all the Bresse chicken back. The black-bone chicken is popular with the hilltribes so we encourage them to breed their own chickens for food,” Nuttkarn says. 

“Right now, we have 105 farmers taking part in our livestock project. That’s only 10 per cent of our members so the focus remains on fruits and vegetables. We have to select members who are prepared to build safe hen-houses and plant a lawn so that the chickens can exercise and graze. 

“Courses in feeding and raising Bresse chickens are also organised by the agricultural stations of Pang Da, Thung Rueng, Mae Lord and Wat Chan while Khun Pae, Khun Wang, Mae Phoo Luang, Sa Ngo and Huay Siaw stations focus on the black-bone breed.”

A lunch tiffin from the Doi Inthanon Royal Project restaurant offers Bresse poulet wrapped in pandanus leaf, herbal grilled trout and spicy mixed vegetable soup with sturgeon.

Another French-raised bird – the pheasant – was introduced to the Mae Lord Royal Project Centre in 2004. Popular in French cuisine, it’s known for its tender meat and rich aroma.

“Our members in Pang Da district are raising 1,200 peasants a year. The hens lay their eggs from March to August and when fully grown, they weigh from 1.5 to 1.7 kilograms. They are fed in a barn and we cover the outside area with netting so they can fly without escaping,” Nuttkarn says.

An experimental sturgeon pond in Mae Klang Luang on Doi Inthanon

Over in Mae Klang Luang, the Doi Inthanon Royal Project has dug ponds for raising sturgeon and rainbow trout alongside the lush rice terraces and is today promoting itself as the country’s major producer of black and red caviar. 

“The fishery department was set up in 1973 and brought in sturgeon and rainbow trout from Russia and America. The caviar project has been successful since 2014,” says Jakapan Jantasee, a specialist with the Royal Project Development Centre.

Inspired by a wonderful meal during a journey to Russia, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit consulted with the Fisheries Department as she felt the fish could thrive in Thailand’s cold north. 

“The sturgeon has a long, black body, and a pointed mouth, while the rainbow trout is related to the salmon and gets its name from the silvery rainbow shine on its skin in the sunlight. Black caviar from sturgeon is priced at Bt70,000 per kilogram and red caviar from rainbow trout is about Bt7,000. The prices are very different because rainbow trout take one to three years to lay eggs while sturgeon need eight,” Jakapan says. 

“Because these two species are unable to incubate their own eggs naturally, we conduct the breeding process in a laboratory. These days we produce 100,000 rainbow trout and 50,000 to 60,000 sturgeons a year. The sturgeon’s flesh is delicious and we serve it smoked, in a Caesar salad and in a dry red curry. The two caviars are available in January at the centre’s restaurant.” 

The sheep farm at Pha Tang Agricultural station in Chiang Mai’s Jom Thong district. 

Mae Klang Luang village is also home to experimental ponds of Japanese eels, crayfish and hairy crab, which are being raised by the younger members of the community. Their elders meanwhile are focusing on weaving wool shirts, shawls, tote bags and tablecloths. 

The wool comes from the sheep farm, which has been in operation since 2010 on 120 rai in the Pha Tang agricultural station, part of Doi Inthanon Royal Project Agricultural Centre. 

A woollen shawl

With the aim of generating income for the women in the area, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit's Pang Tong Royal Palace in Mae Hong Son province donated 32 sheep to start the breeding programme.

“We now have 160 sheep from two species from Australia and the UK, both of which are known for their soft and fluffy fleeces,” says specialist Somsit Phromma. 

“Before shearing, each sheep is cleaned with warm water to get rid of grass and mud. We shear every eight months.”

The sheep can be sheared from the age of two and produce one to 1.5 kg of fleece each time. The wool from the shoulder is the best part, and is perfect for weaving cross-body bags and tablecloths, the first collection of which was introduced three years ago.

And now the Royal Project is creating new lamb dishes with the meat too.

“In the rainy season, the sheep graze on ruzi grass and in summer, they are fed vegetables. The dung is used to produce fertiliser and bio-gas,” Somsit says. 

SUSTAINABLE PRODUCE

The Royal Project Market will be held at Siam Paragon from November 23 to 30, from 10 to 10. Call (02) 610 8082.

Learn more about the Royal Project Foundation at www.RoyalProjectThailand.com.