Explore the diversity of forage plants that can be used as feed for livestock. Learn to choose, use and manage those plants for more sustainable livestock farming.

Course Code: BAG226
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Improve the Sustainability of Livestock Farming

Traditional grazing of livestock can very easily suffer in times of drought or feed shortage.

Establishing and properly managing forage plants can be a practical and sustainable solution.

What Forage Plants can do for a farm:

  • Diversify food sources for animals
  • Improve land sustainability and health through a more biodiverse ecosystem
  • Reduce the cost of feeding livestock
  • Improve the variety of foods available to animals - potentially improving animal health
  • Buffer the land degradation effects of erosion, flood, drought and natural disasters

If you select appropriate, disaster resistant but edible plant species; then establish them in appropriate places, livestock and farm viability can benefit immensely.

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 toxicosis, 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


  • 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.

What is Fodder?

Fodder is plant material that is eaten by animals; usually grazing animals including horses, cattle, goats, deep, sheep and/or pigs.

Fodder can come from a wide variety of different plants, though most commonly it is from mostly grasses, with other low growing plants including legumes, growing among the grasses. These are generally low, herbaceous plants. Fodder plants can however also include woody plants such as low growing heaths, through to shrubs and trees. Fodder ecosystems might or might not be managed, to a larger or lesser degree.
The terminology can be confusing as much of it intertwines and varies depending on your location. In some countries pasture refers to landscape that are intensively managed to feed livestock; and relatively unmanaged landscapes which are used to graze livestock is called rangeland. In other countries the term pasture may be used in reference to both managed and unmanaged landscapes which are used to feed animals.

Different plant species vary in the food value for animals, and different animal species vary in their ability to process different types of plants. Cattle that are grazing on grassland do like to eat different types of herbs as well as the grass. This helps to fulfil nutrient requirements which the grass alone cannot satisfy. A varied diet can build resistance to disease and parasites, and also affect the quality of milk and meat produced; sometimes in a positive way, and sometimes in a negative way, e.g. the weed Paterson’s Curse, taints the flavour of cow’s milk.

There are 3 ways of using land for fodder:

  1. Animals graze on living plants in the pasture or rangeland
  2. Animals are fed harvested plant material cut from fodder plants
  3. Animals can graze on stubble left in a paddock, after fodder plants have been cut/harvested.
Member of the Future Farmers Network

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of the Permaculture Association

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

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