Quality chaff starts in the paddock for the Nitschke family, Belvidere Ridge, Greenock, with their location offering reliable rainfall and red-loam soils to make the best of the venture.
John and Karen Nitschke, with sons Lachlan and Aaron and their partners Joanne and Emma, saw an opportunity to value-add to their farm when an old chaff mill became available in their region.
John is the fifth generation working the farm, with Lachlan managing the mill and Aaron working as a local agronomist.
The shift to chaff means hay production takes up 75 per cent of the 850 hectares they crop, with the remainder a mix of pulses and grains to maintain a balanced crop rotation.
They say varieties are integral to producing quality chaff, the process calling for long stalks and awnless heads, leading to their decision to continue growing an old wheat, Raven.
This year Winteroo and Mulgara oats have been sown, along with Yallara for the first time.
“The maturity time is different with the chosen varieties, so we don’t have all our hay on the ground at one time,” Aaron said.
Lachlan said seeding started on May 7 and finished a month later after they “chased moisture from paddock to paddock”. Crops have germinated, thanks to a 35 millimetre break mid-June.
“From one end of our property to the other, the further north we go, we’re finding it quite a bit later and drier,” Lachlan said.
Germination is also staggered, due to the different in soil types and moisture.
“The red-loam soils have germinated well, and the black soils, the self-mulching soils are very patchy,” Aaron said.
Along with a standard spraying and fertilising program, the family is also trialling Echelon normalised difference vegetation index maps for the first time with urea spreading.
“Some of our soils are shallow with limestone underneath, reducing the need for higher rates of urea, and in other areas we apply higher rates where we achieve a greater return,” Lachlan said
Round baling is the most effective means of preserving hay quality for chaff.
“We don’t condition our hay; we swath it, round bale it and do so softly to keep the hay intact,” Lachlan said.
“We then unroll the hay, it gets steamed to make the product damp and toughened and then it gets cut into six millimetre to 8mm pieces, is triple sieved, dust reduced and put into storage bins.
“We then bag and paletise it as we see fit.
“We’ve done quite a lot of modifications to machinery to get a nice feed of hay into the cutter and get a nice, precise sample so we can ensure that we get a consistent product.”