CHAPTERS 5 (pp. 134-135) AND 6 (pp. 153-154) IN TEXT.

Forage crops mainly consist of members of the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) and Poaceae (Gramineae). Cumulatively, their value is comparable to that of non-forage cultivated plants. In the world there are about 1.5 X 109 hectares (3.7 X 109 acres) of arable land. There are 3 X 109 hectares (7.5 X 10 9 acres) of pasture lands.
In North America, they are about equal. In Europe and S.E. Asia, there is more arable land. In S. America, most of Asia, and Africa there is more pasture land.
Nutritionally, young grass may be up to 20% protein. Usually about 10%. In the U.S., the value of forage crops about $10 X 109 per year. For most parts of the world, production figures are difficult to obtain as forage crops are usually grown and consumed on the same farm. Only recently have people started to systematically fertilize, breed, make hybrid forages etc.
Frequently grasses and legumes sown together. In temperate areas, millets, sudan grass, oats, rye, Trifolium subterraneum, Medicago, and other legumes are widely cultivated. In cold areas of the world, harvested and preserved forage crops are essential in order to feed cattle and other livestock through the long winters.
All of the common cereal grains are used to feed livestock as well as man. In Europe, many root crops such as beets, turnips and potatoes are also used to feed animals.
Forage crops may be used directly, made into hay or into silage. Hay is produced by reducing the moisture content of fresh plant material down to 15% water or less.
Hay quality is determined by what species are involved, the amount of leaf material in comparison to stem material, the time the forage was harvested, and the amount of weathering and handling the material has undergone.
Ensilage is made by anaerobic fermentation of undried forage or the stalks of corn, sorghum, etc. Ensilage is usually rich in water. During fermentation, the acid content rises and preserves the plant material.
Most of the cultivated forage crops are from Europe or Asia. Most forage crops are perennials, but others are annuals. Page 135. Table lists some of the major forage grasses.
Many of the same things apply to forage legumes. They also fix nitrogen. Table of forage legumes on pg. 153. Many of the legume forage crops are also excellent bee plants as well. However, animals tend not to do well on fields of pure legumes. They do best with a mixture of grasses and legumes. Again, most of the cultivated species come from Europe, Africa and Asia.

Hay production-sorghum forage

This is the most important forage legume. Alfalfa or lucerne (Medicago sativa) has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is grown today on all continents except Antarctica. More than 33 million hectares cultivated in the world. Cultivated types are tetraploids. Wild diploids are found in the Near East. These probably represent the ancestral species of the cultivated crop.
Used by the Romans. Was a favorite forage for chariot horses. Alfalfa was commonly grown in Spain and introduced from there into the New World. This forage legume was introduced into California from Chile during the Gold Rush in 1848-1850.
Until about 1900, this crop could not be grown well in the North because of the lack of cold hardiness. Since then, hardy varieties have been developed.
Alfalfa is a perennial that is grown from seed. As many as 6-9 cuttings per year can be made under ideal conditions. It is somewhat salt tolerant. Also drought resistant. It makes excellent fodder (but is slightly toxic to many animals) and must be mixed with other forage. The U.S., Argentina, France major growers.


Clovers ( Trifoliumspp. ) are the second most important group of forage plants. They are also natives of Europe and Asia. White clover, Trifolium repens(often 20-30% protein), and red clover, Trifolium pratense, are probably the most commonly grown in the U.S. They are also often planted with grasses.
There are some toxicity problems associated with clovers.

Sweet clover
These plants (Melilotus albaand M. officinalisare also important forage crops. They also are at times slightly toxic.

Many of these species are from Asia. They are now found widely. They were introduced in 1919 into the U.S.

Birdsfoot trefoil
Also from Europe and Asia. Common in the Northeastern U.S. where heavy soils predominate. Also somewhat toxic at times.

Birdsfoot trefoil

Forage plants in the tropics
Forage plants are becoming more and more common in the tropics. In temperate areas, millets, sudan grass, oats, rye,Trifolium subterraneum, Medicago, and other legumes are widely cultivated. In warm tropical areas, Napier fodder (Panicum purpureum) and guinea grass or indio (P. maximum) and the legumes (Pueraria phaseoloides) and Glycine wightii are widely grown.
In recent years, many types of legume forage crops that are small trees or shrubs have been planted. Examples are Leucaena leucocepahalaand Indigofera spicata. Although these produce a lot of protein and are good forage plants, most also have some toxicity problems.

Panicum maximum
Leucaena leucocephala

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Revised February 2005

© David S. Seigler,Integrative Biology 363, Plants and Their Uses, Department of Plant Biology, 265 Morrill Hall, 505 S. Goodwin Ave., University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA. 217-333-7577.