Forage Management

Course CodeBAG226
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn how to manage forage to optimise livestock nutrition!

Forage is plant material consumed by animals as they browse or graze. Forage plants may occur naturally or be cultivated as crops.

Forage management might be concerned primarily with controlling access to plants, but can also be concerned with the establishment, regeneration, care and maintenance of forage plant populations.

To manage forage resources, you need to have a good understanding of both the plants growing in an area, and the animals that graze on those plants. It requires an appreciation of plant and animal ecology and the impacts which man can have on that ecology.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Forage Resources
    • Introduction
    • Terminology
    • Types of Forage
    • Types of Forage Lands
    • What different Animals Eat - Avian, Monogastric, Ruminants, Pseudo Ruminant
    • Managing Forage Ecosystems
    • Over grazing
    • Continuous vs Rotational Grazing
    • Ecosystem Health
    • Weed Types
    • Weed Populations
  2. Grassland Species and Ecosystems
    • Different Ways to Feed Animals
    • Different Fodder Systems
    • Different Fodder Plants - grasses, legumes, roots, wildflowers, forbs
  3. Fodder Trees & Shrubs
    • Definitions
    • Advantages & Disadvantages of Fodder Trees
    • Using Fodder Trees
    • Harvesting Foliage - pollarding, coppicing, browse blocks, leaf fall, silvopasture systems
    • Criteria for plant selection
    • Financial considerations
    • Considering Tree Species - Acacias, Bamboos, Beech, Black locust, Carob, Honey Locust, Pome Fruits and many more
  4. Forage Establishment
    • Natural area Grazing
    • Seeding
    • Soil - soil biome, rhizosphere, autotoxicity
    • Weed Management
    • Biodiversity -riparian zone, birds
  5. Forage Management
    • Regenerative Grazing Management
    • Improving Soil Quality
    • Strategies for Soil Improvement - crop rotation, tillage, zero tillage, fertility testing, soil compaction, soil cover
    • Fertiliser Management
    • NPK
    • Using Legumes
    • Irrigation Management
    • Animal Management
    • Animal Access Management - hedges, wire, barbed wire, electric fence, stone walls, banks/rises, gates, digital fencing tech
    • Controlled Burning
    • Pest and Disease Management
  6. Forage Quality and Use
    • Understanding Quality -palatability. intake, digestibility. nutrients, anti quality forage, animal performance
    • Composition and Analysis- moisture content, crude protein, fibre, energy, minerals, relative feed value etc
    • Cutting
  7. Forage (animal) related disorders
    • Recognising ill health
    • Seasonal and Conditional Disorders -bloat, acidosis, nitrate poisoning, prussic acid, grass tetany, phytoestrogens, etc
    • Overgrazing
    • Parasites
    • Worms
    • Species Related Disorders - fescue taxicosis, endophyte toxins, ryegrass staggers, antiquality components, phenolic compounds
    • Seasonal and Conditional Disorders -plant poisoning
    • Disorders Associated with Stored Forages
  8. Preserving Forage as Hay & Silage
    • Making Hay - curing, weather factors, etc
    • Mowing
    • Conditioning
    • Swathe Manipulation to Speed Drying
    • Hay Storage and Preservation
    • Phases in Silage Fermentation
    • Silage Storage
    • Silage Management

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the nature and scope of forage plants eaten by animals, both in captivity and in the wild.
  • Identify the comparative characteristics of grasses and other low growing fodder plants from different natural and created habitats, including grasses, legumes and forbs.
  • Identify the comparative characteristics of grasses and other low growing fodder plants from different natural and created habitats including a range of trees and shrubs.
  • Explain how forage plants may be established effectively in a managed pasture.
  • Explain how to manage a landscape to optimise forage production in a way that is sustainable, both economically and environmentally.
  • Explore factors that impact the quantity and quality of forage produced by a landscape and the effect on productivity of forage production.
  • Identify common problems that can arise in livestock and other animals as a result or the forage/fodder they eat.
  • Harvest and store forage plants for feeding animals after a period of storage.


Fodder plants are mainly cultivated for animal feed which does include natural pastures regardless of if they are cultivated. These crops can be permanent or temporary. Permanent crops entail land use exclusively for 5 years or more for establishing a specific fodder whether it is natural herbaceous material or cultivated. Many of the previously listed pasture types are considered permanent crops such as savannas, prairies, rough, and wood pastures. Temporary crops are intensively farmed, cut, and rotated fodder plants which are typically either grasses, legumes, or root crops.

These types of fodder are fed as either:

  • Fresh, green feed which may be harvested and given to animals or have animals graze directly and rotate on cultivated pastures.  
  • Hay where the fodder is stored, dried and then given to the animals
  • Converted to silage where it is compacted to airtight, barrel shaped wraps which allow for fermentation without spoilage (usually in preparation for winter months)
  • Part of compound feeds

Grasses are the dominant vegetation on much of worlds rangelands. They are classified as temporary crops grown intensively with multiple cropping per year as fodder. They are harvested green and contain crude fibres, protein and some minerals. E.g. Bluegrass, Napier, Sudan grass, Timothy grass.

Legumes are a temporary crop and unique subgroup of forbs having narrow range of adaptation than grasses do. Many legumes have superior forage quality, most fix atmospheric nitrogen and often seeded into and managed as important component of pasture and hayfields. Widely grown legumes used to feed animals include are clovers and trefoils.  With regards to animal nutrition, legumes are high in crude protein and have high intake and digestibility by ruminants than grasses. Some common types of legumes cultivated include alfalfa, red clover, birdsfoot trefoil, white clover, and annual lespedeza. 

‎Sainfoin (Onobrychis sativa) is a type of legume known for its quality and effective animal performance. It is quite a popular legume option especially in the western US as it is well adapted to low nitrogen and high calcium and ph. soils. The fodder is palatable, nutritionally balanced, does not cause bloat, and has no major pests, rather, it encourages pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies. The legume is effective in boosting nitrogen levels of the soil and is commonly planted prior to cultivating cereals to improve the soil quality. 

‎Another common type of legume used is lupins which are a wildly cultivated flowering plant found in Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa, and North and South America. It is commonly used as a food source for sheep and cattle and can be both temporary and permanent pastures. The plants themselves can be used for grazing pastures or more commonly the lupin grain is harvested and fed to livestock. It is an ideal grain for finishing sheep as it is large and palatable and has a low starch level and high digestible crude fibre level which prevents acidosis from occurring in animals. 

Root vegetables are a temporary crop and are easily digestible for animals as they have a low fibre content and contain high levels of starch and sugar. Types of root crops that most grown include carrots, beetroot, potatoes, and yellowbeet. The crops are relatively easy to grow however do need to be cut up using a root cutter, or similar tool, to prevent animals from choking on the large vegetables produced. Root fodder crops are more common on small scale farms.

Wildflower pastures are a permanent pasture naturally occurring worldwide. They create an ideal habitat for an intricate ecosystem encouraging life of birds, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, and mammals.

Wildflower dominant pastures include:

  • Neutral grasslands such as clover species, birdsfoot trefoil, meadow buttercup and marigold
  • Dryer climates with limestone grasses such as thyme, rock rose, and knapweed
  • Waxcap grasslands in heathlands and sandy terrain which includes fungi species
  • Machair 
  • Whin grasslands

They are typically abundant with pollinators and is a high priority for conservation especially in the UK. These pastures are commonly used harmoniously for grazing with cattle where overgrazing and high stocking densities are especially avoided to preserve these ecosystems. 

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