DAVID and Yvonne Stroud (DJ & YM Stroud) first began dairy farming in 1980 when they took on the tenancy of a 110-acre council farm in Oxfordshire - in fact 1980 was doubly productive in that both their business and family started that same year.

Their herd initially comprised 50 cows but the Strouds gradually built up the business by at first buying the farm and then renting a further 100 acres on which they carried their Whitehills' herd of 130 Pedigree Holsteins - and all this at a time when milk prices were down and the cost of money was quite expensive.

Enthusiasm to expand still further was coursing through their veins, but unfortunately, the price of adjoining land was proving somewhat prohibitive plus a resigned and reluctant acceptance that the Cotswold part of Oxfordshire was maybe not the most productive area for dairy farming. The Cotswolds tend to lie on limestone brash with about four inches of soil and is therefore much more condusive to arable farming, but they really wanted a farm with much better grassland potential with the Westcountry the obvious choice. The net was cast, viewings made and in 1998, the decision was taken to move to a farm near Callington in east Cornwall.

With the Strouds being able to capitalise on the residential value of their land, they could initially buy 190 acres in Cornwall for not much more than the price they achieved when they sold their 110 acres in Oxfordshire, and although the location of their new farm was ideal, they knew from the outset that the standard of the outbuildings was a really limiting factor to cow performance and that upgrading was essential - the budget having already been set for their first five year plan.

When the Strouds moved down, they brought their existing herd of 130 cows with the full intention of major expansion, but the combination of a longer winter and poor housing facilities resulted in a drop of 1,800 litres per cow - the herd only averaging 6,000 litres after their first full year.

However, with interest rates starting to become much more realistic at five to six per cent, they embarked upon a major project to start upgrading most of the farm's outbuildings - an investment that has already amounted to £250,000, is still on-going and an exercise that has always been deemed as extremely good value for money.

Improved cow performance coincided with improved cow comfort with the herd increasing by 2,000 litres in 18 months, and further improvements in forage quality and general fine tuning' has now resulted in the herd averaging 9,600 litres - a figure that they have maintained for the last three years - one of which they just touched the magical figure of 10,000. Butterfats were 4.10 and milk protein at 3.2 - both of which are now rising.

Over time, additional land was acquired by renting with the total acreage now farmed standing at over 350 acres. There are 300 acres of grassland on the farm and forage output per acre is now double that of their previous farm in Oxfordshire with grass being the key. It is treated as a crop and managed accordingly and with 200 cows, plus 150 followers to feed over a 200-day winter, it is easy to understand why grass plays such an important roll.

The farm is 550 ft and is predominantly north facing with the bulk of the land near the farm on the heavy side - the lighter and more loamier soils are on the far side and fields that are used for grazing - turnout usually being around mid-April. The cows are kept out until mid-September when they are brought in by night and from October onwards, they are housed 24 hours a day.

Like a lot of dairy farmers in the far West this year, the cows had to be brought in for a whole month during the summer because of the wet, thus making serious inroads into silage that had been intended for the winter. Grazing management is paramount on this farm as turning out too early or bringing in too late will inevitably lead to severe poaching and ultimately loss of yield.

With 350 mouths to feed over this 200-day winter, yields are vitally important, but so is quality as so much is expected from forage during the winter months. The conservation ground is always cut three times during the season with the first cut taken between May 7-10 when quality is at its peak, with six-week intervals between the second and third cuts, with a fourth taken if both weather and field conditions permit - a necessity this year as the cows were on silage for a whole month during the summer.

Yields and quality of both grazed and conserved grass are maximised by an on-going re-seeding policy with short term leys used on parts of the farm where they are needed to fit in with the arable rotation, all the mixtures being chosen from ACT's ACTion range of grass seeds, with up to 50 acres re-seeded each year. Long term grazing land is always re-seeded with No. 59 Sweet Grazer - an all-tetraploid mixture plus clover, with the conservation ground being re-seeded with either No.62 Cut & Graze - a four to five year ley containing 70 per cent tetraploids or No 23 Heavy Silage - a medium term specialist silage mixture containing 60 per cent tetraploids - 40 acres of which have been sown this year. Clover is always used on grazing leys with tetraploid rye grasses proving extremely popular with both farmer and cows due to its high yield, palatability and high sugar content.

There are about 100 acres of arable land - 50 acres of cereals which are crimped with all the straw being kept for bedding, plus 50 acres of wholecrop, which, this year was a mixture of triticale and lupins but next year will be an arable mixture of spring barley and peas. Maize was grown from 1998 to 2003, but with the farm being so high and north facing, both yields and quality suffered and as a result, they have grown wholecrop - and it has to be said, somewhat successfully. The Strouds quickly identified that the crop they could grow best and get most out of was grass and that's what they are concentrating on, but they still need to grow energy and protein crops and thus far, wholecrop seems to be the best option for energy, but a clear cut picture has yet to emerge for protein. There are a few options, but as yet, they have not come across anything that performs consistently well - year on year.

Fertiliser purchases on this farm are kept to a minimum by careful and judicious applications of farmyard manures and other than a periodic top-up application of 50 kgs of muriate of potash per acre, soil indices are maintained at P3, K2 with a pH of 6.2 - the purchases tending to be straight N, a grazing compound such as 27.6.6 and an After Cut type. In common with every dairy farm, thousands of gallons of slurry are produced each winter and rather than regard it as being a problematic waste product, the opposite view is taken with the farm currently working on Encompass' - a scheme set up between DEFRA and the Environment Agency which matches both crop and fertiliser inputs by maximising slurry efficiency with good environmental practice - the whole project monitored by the farm's major supplier ACT Ltd, and it is here that David Stroud is particularly keen to highlight what he believes is an extremely important contributor to the way the farm functions and it's general well-being - namely service. ACT has been the farm's biggest supplier since the Strouds first arrived in 1998 and has provided huge input into the general farming practices which ranges from nutritional to cropping and fertiliser advice. David Stroud believes that the farm has benefited greatly from ACT's national and local expertise saying that the service and back-up that they provide is second to none.

With the herd averaging between 9,600 and10,000 litres for the past three years, the Strouds believe that the major part of their next five-year plan is to consolidate that yield, improve margins from farm produced outputs which includes selling surplus livestock and even though milk from forage is currently 40 per cent, they are both of the opinion that improvements can still be made.

"This is a specialist dairy unit,'' said David, "and even though our milk yields and quality are more than acceptable, we cannot afford to be complacent. We are monitoring the cows and feeding programmes on a regular basis and continually striving toward improving the quality of our forage. It is a bit of a battle at times, especially over the past couple of years, but it is a battle that we think we're winning.

"We are a hard-working and pro-active husband and wife team that's fully complemented by two excellent full-time employees whose range of skills enables most of the farm work to be carried out in-house.

"Maximising efficiency with attention to detail will allow us to maximise outputs. We're not there yet,'' said David, "but it is a key objective.''