HUSBAND and wife team Allan and Emma Miller (AR and EJ Miller) of Blackwater Farm, W. Bourton, Gillingham, Dorset are firmly of the opinion that there are only two ways for them to improve the profitability of their farming enterprise - to produce more milk per acre and to grow better quality home grown forage - and more of it.

The farm carries a herd of 240 Friesian cows which, over a period of time, has been moved to mostly spring calving - a key management decision which permits greater emphasis on grazed grass and less on conserved grass as the bulk of the herd are outwintered day and night on a mixture of stubble turnips and forage rape.

With all the heifer calves being kept on as future herd replacements, most of the bull calves are also kept on to be finished at 24 months and are fed on a diet of grass until late autumn, following which they are then turned into the stubble turnip/rape mix and straw. They are then finished on a 50/50 mix of maize and grass silage with a conscious effort to minimize - even eliminate altogether at times - any bought in feeds.

A small herd of 25 Angus beef are sold as stores between 16 and 18 months.

The farm itself totals 450 acres but a further 180 acres of local and adjacent grass keep are rented from March to October, thus allowing the cows ample grazing close to the farm.

One hundred and twenty acres of winter wheat and 30 acres of malting spring barley are being grown this year and will all be sold to Wessex Grain, with yields averaging around 3.4 tonnes per acre on the wheat with the barley giving around 2.6 tonnes per acre. All the straw is used on farm with a significant amount being fed to outwintered cattle.

Sixty acres of maize will be grown this year using the two preferred varieties of Crescendo and Destiny. Although the farm can successfully grow medium maturing material - as proven by on-going maize trials - earlier harvesting does permit a much bigger planting window for the following crop of winter wheat. Although later maturing varieties do tend to be heavier, maize yields on this farm are not really compromised at all with yields of 18 tonnes per acre being quite common place at 30% dry matter and 30% starch. Whilst Allan firmly believes that the maize trials have been quite beneficial into making varietal choice, he is also of the opinion that good crop management is also essential e.g good seedbed preparation, appropriate levels of N, P & K, good and on-going specialist advice on weed control and lastly, he says, "Don't forget the clamp! We roll our clamp so tight that we no longer buy any additive, but the maize is still cold, feeds really well and hardly any wastage at all!"

Although cereal production is extremely important as a cash crop and maize providing the all- important energy levels for the cows, the most important crop for the farm is, without doubt, grass. The move to spring calving has allowed more time in which to improve grassland management, although the family readily admits that there is still a long way to go yet before getting remotely close to maximising yield and quality.

A system of paddock grazing is now employed and with extra cow tracks being installed, better grazing management has undoubtedly led to an overall improvement in sward quality and with the soil being predominantly limestone brash, poaching has been virtually eliminated altogether.

Another benefit from better grassland management is that they have been able to reduce their fertiliser inputs without any yield penalty - so better management = much improved quality, maintained quantity and less fertiliser. Can't be bad!

One bag of 34.5% N is applied to all grassland in early February and thereafter at six-weekly intervals to the end of April. No fertiliser is applied during the peak growing times of May and early June, re-commencing only for the summer and late autumn periods.

All the grassland, including silage ground, is grazed in the spring and once unstocked, a further 60-80 units of N' are applied to the cutting ground with the first cut being taken around 20 May 20, following which two bags of a KayNitro type product are applied for the second cut. Further cuts are taken as and when grazing fields threaten to get ahead of the cows. As with the maize clamp, grass silage clamps are firmly consolidated and no additive used.

Silage cuts are always taken when quality is at its most optimum, as quantity can always be topped up later on in the year when grazing fields are cut.

There are a number of interesting points in the overall running of this farm and none more so than the introduction of the previously mentioned forage mixture - a mixture of 2/3 - 1/3 stubble turnip and forage rape - the rape being included to increase protein levels. This mixture is sown immediately after the wheat harvest and can be grazed from early November to mid March.

A total of 90 acres are sown each year and offers ample fodder for up to 250 outwintered cattle - the only additional feed being straw. Fences are moved on a daily basis, the distance moved reflecting the amount of food required for any particular day, with both weather and stock numbers having an influential bearing. Once the cattle have been moved on to grass in early spring, all this land then receives a coating of slurry before being ploughed up and returned to spring barley and maize. There is a clear and positive environmental message here as crop rotations dictate that there is always a crop in the ground. There are no over wintered stubbles, so soils are stabilised and nitrogen leaching kept to a minimum.

The herd is currently averaging 5500 litres and whilst it could be argued that this is on the low side, it should also be pointed out that concentrate usage is only 1 tonne per cow, so milk from forage is at least 3000 litres or 55%. Targets for the future include increasing the herd size to 300 cows, maintaining to slightly increasing milk yields, thereby increasing milk yield per acre, but increasing milk from forage to at least 65% - so, ideally, getting the herd average up to 6000 litres with the extra 500 litres all coming from better forage.

Moving to spring calving has enabled this family team to have more time to fine tune management - both with the cows and the forage, but Allan is also very keen to stress the importance of Pearce Seeds - not just for being able to come up with what has proved to be a superb forage mixture and being able to mix it, but also the agronomic and technical expertise that is available from them which is so important for a really successful cereal crop.

"Maximising outputs from minimum inputs is what we are trying to achieve," said Allan "but without compromising cow condition," he said. "We still have a long way to go and we will never stop learning about grass, but we are both confident that the goals that we have set ourselves are achievable goals and despite the current agricultural climate, we are still cautiously optimistic."