Many forage species are used for grazing, including grasses, legumes, and other forbs. Optimal selection should be based on matching species characteristics to the climate, soil, intended use, and management level that will be imposed.  This section provides descriptions and tolerance characteristics of the various species, identification and selection tools, an image gallery, and references.

Species Descriptions

"Descriptions of many forage species are provided as part of the Fact Sheets developed for each species within the FIS Species & Varieties Topics segment. These fact sheets describe suitability for various uses (pasture, hay, silage, conservation plantings, etc.), management requirements, and suitability for particular environments.

Other resources for forage species descriptions include the following:

Species Tolerances

Species tolerance information for climatic, soil, and management factors is important to long-term pasture sustainability.

Climatic tolerances (precipitation/soil moisture requirements and hot/cold temperature limits) are found in most forage management guides.  Examples include:

Soil tolerances (for drainage/flooding, acidity/alkalinity, salinity, etc.) are described in the <a href="/%3Ca%20href%3D"">">USDA-NRCS "National Range and Pasture Handbook"</a> in terms of logical groupings (i.e. very tolerant, tolerant, slightly tolerant, intolerant).

Other guides include:

Management tolerances (for fertility, defoliation, and irrigation) are typically grouped in broad terms (low, medium, high fertility requirement; tolerance or intolerance to combinations of frequency and severity of grazing, and yield potential when suboptimal irrigation is provided). 

Historically, these tolerances have been defined qualitatively. This allowed general recommendations of what species would tolerate a particular combination of conditions. Current computer technologies now allow for more accurate matching of conditions and species when quantitative tolerances are defined and matched against spatial data layers for climate and soils information.

Examples of initial efforts of this type of GIS-based mapping are available within the <a href="/%3Ca%20href%3D"">">FIS Species "Selection Information System" mapping segment</a> and the <a href="/%3Ca%20href%3D"">">"Dynamic Mapping Tool" application</a>.

Species Identification

To properly manage forages, the ability to identify the species you're working with is important. Taxonomic keys require a significant botanical vocabulary and are difficult to use for the inexperienced. Visual keys containing drawings and photographs are available from the following sources:

Species & Variety Descriptions