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Hay history reaps rewards

Dale Turner, Jamie Turner and Grant Goodhill

In the Bible, chaff is considered the most humble of wheat products, containing little to no value. Yet for the Turner family – the hard working and knowledgeable team behind Australian Premium Feeds – knowing your wheat from your chaff is proving to be a valuable business advantage.

Husband-and wife team Jamie and Dale Turner, together with Jamie’s parents Mavis and Peter, and brother Grant Goodhill run the state-of-the-art processing facility in a repurposed shed on Great Northern Highway, just north of the Bindoon townsite. From here the best quality, laboratory-tested hay is combined to produce a range of chaff products to keep animals in tip top condition.

For Jamie, years of ensuring the hay he sent overseas as an exporter was of a particular standard served to highlight inconsistencies in the quality of domestic feed here in Western Australia. With his farming and exporting background providing a solid base, the catalyst for forming Australian Premium Feeds in 2014 was the inability to find decent feed for his own racehorses and realising there must be others in the same position.

With core growers from Geraldton to Williams, hay is sampled by APF and sent to the Department of Agriculture for annual rye grass toxicity (ARGT) testing and to Independent Lab Services for nutritional analysis before heading to APF for processing.

“Nothing can land on our property until the test results are back,” said Jamie.

Annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) is an often fatal poisoning of livestock caused by the consumption of annual ryegrass infected with the bacterium Rathayibacter toxicus (formerly known as Clavibacter toxicus). Infected ryegrass remains toxic even when it has senesced and dried off.

“Toxic hay becomes toxic chaff,” explains Dale. “The steaming process of chaffing doesn’t get rid of any bacteria, it is purely for the cutting, to stop the stems from shattering.”

Symptoms of ARGT include a high stepping gait, staggering, collapse, trembling, terminal convulsions and death within one to two days. Affected animals may be found dead without observation of previous signs.

Australian Premium Feeds was the first chaff manufacturing plant in Australia to become Feedsafe Accredited and are passionate advocates for improving the regulation standards in the domestic market.

“Regardless of what a country’s import requirements are in regards to quality assurance, we as a country should have mandatory testing by qualified hay samplers,” said Dale.

While the ARGT testing is essential from a safety perspective, the results of the feed analysis are also crucial to ensure the quality, stability and consistency of APF’s bespoke chaff blends.

“The results always vary,” explains Jamie. “The growing region, seasons, soil type, how the famers fertilise and the time of cutting all effect the quality of the hay. “There’s no blanket rule for any one type of hay – people often think oaten hay is really high in sugar compared to wheaten hay. Well that’s not always right. Unless you have the test results in front of you, you can’t make assumptions like that.

“Feed analysis dictates how we blend – you might use 70% of one grade of hay, 30% of another, or maybe a 50/50 mix. It ensures what the customer buys in January is the same quality that they buy in December.”

Also key to the APF process is the use of a fully-automated bagging machine, which ensures the chaff is bagged to a uniform weight and size. Quality and freshness are preserved in the fully-sealed recyclable bag and the uniformity of the finished product enables simple storage and transport.

The Turner family have a long history in chaffing, with the family first acquiring a farm in 1928. Jamie’s grandfather helped to clear the land by axe as a child and they harvested their first crop in 1930.

“Because they owned horses – as everything was horse-drawn in those days – they turned the hay into sheaves and then into chaff,” explains Jamie’s mother, Mavis.

Sheaving is part of a labour-intensive harvesting process in which bunches of hay stems are bound together (a sheaf) and stood up in stooks to dry. A stook is an A-frame structure with the grain heads meeting at the top to keep the grain ventilated and off the ground. It is a far cry from the contemporary methods used now, although Jamie says, “We were still sheaving hay in the 80’s!”

Complementing the processing plant is the APF shopfront which has been operating for three years. The store attracts customers from around the state who share APF’s belief that you can keep feeding animals simple by buying quality nutritious products from the start.

Evacuated horses from the recent Wooroloo fire were treated to the fine dining experience of APF products after their stressful ordeal.

“We got a call out that there were a heap of horses at the Muchea polocrosse grounds and they had no feed! We loaded the truck, raced up and delivered it,” said Dale.

“We had people calling us from all over the state to donate money for us to deliver feed, or whatever we thought people might need. It was lovely.”

Building strong partnerships within the community through endeavours such as this are important to the APF team, as is educating consumers about the need for quality feed and making them aware of the fact that you can buy it right here in the Northern Valleys.

Dale says, “I think it’s great that we have this facility in our backyard! We are leaders in our field and we consciously produce a fabulous product.”

You can find Australian Premium Feeds at 6613 Great Northern Highway in Bindoon.