Bale of hay on a green field with a stormy sky background
Updated: March 30, 2021

Forages, when well-managed, are an important sustainable feed source for any livestock farm. In general, forages are the plants eaten by farm animals and include pasture crops (harvested by grazing) and hay crops (harvested by equipment and stored for later use). Forages are especially important for small and beginning farms in supplying a significant part of animal nutrition while minimizing feed and other production costs. The table below illustrates the importance of forages for beef, sheep and dairy production.


% of production costs that are feeds

% of feed that is forages % of production costs supplied by forages
Beef 85 85 72
Sheep 95 95 90
Dairy 65 63 41


In Maryland there are  over 477,000 acres in hay (223,390 acres) and pasture (253,903 acres), according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. In addition to providing livestock feed, forages are important conservation crops. They reduce soil erosion and nutrient leaching, provide biologically fixed nitrogen, and add soil organic matter. With increased concerns for the environment and water quality, forages, including winter cover crops, play an increasingly important role in nutrient management systems for hay and livestock enterprises.

There are many steps in establishing and managing forages for sustainable production. Fortunately there are many resources available; starting with the local University of Maryland Extension office and the local Soil Conservation District office.


Setting Up a Pasture System - University of Maryland Extension 

In this presentation you will learn different types of grazing, common forages, determining paddock size, and more.

Weeds in Pastures - University of Maryland Extension 

In this presentation, you will learn about pasture invasive vines, poison plants, and ornamentals.