Ideally, livestock could graze year round on lush green pastures. However, since there is no all-weather forage plant that produces high yields of top-quality feed continually and since animals still eat throughout the year, forage managers must consider ways to extend a growing season and prepare for the inevitable low periods in growth patterns. Good forage management take advantage of high peaks in production and quality by harvesting forages for use as a winter feed.

Forage species are remarkable at producing large quantities of feed during a growing season when managed properly. During peak seasons, forages can be mowed and collected for use as stored feed. Although at one time this was done manually, machines are now used to harvest the excess forage, collect it, and place it in storage. This is referred to as mechanically harvested forage. Mechanically harvested forage costs twice as much as grazed forage, so it must be carefully considered. However, most forage species are productive for 7-9 months of the year depending on location and conditions, so stored feed will be needed for about four months.

Extending a growing season is usually the first choice of forage managers since mechanically harvesting forage is costly in labor, machinery, and time. Extending the growing season may be done by planting mixtures of forage species. Mixtures should contain species that are both suitable to the location and are compatible to each other in their growth habits. Examples include: rye and ryegrass; tall fescue-red clover; and birdsfoot trefoil-tall fescue. Another method used to extending the growing season is to plant different pastures with species of different seasonal growth patterns and utilizing the pastures at different times. In some locations, warm-season and cold-season forages can be used to have different timings for productive growth. Overseeding a winter annual on fields that have dormant warm-season species underneath can efficiently utilize soil and growth patterns. Also, some species can be "stockpiled" (accumulated forage saved for a later period) and used at the end of the growing season. Finally, animals can glean the residue of grain crops late in the year to extend the grazing season.

However, a time will come when livestock will need to be fed mechanically harvested forage because good grazing opportunities are not available. Animal performance can remain high on stored feed which is a goal of livestock systems. 


Mechanically harvested forages are high in quality if the harvesting is done properly and at the best times. The two main products of mechanically harvesting forage are hay and silage. Both require proper cutting, transport, and storage to retain their quality and yield. But the processes involved are different and the advantages and disadvantages of each is different. Haymaking is labor intensive for a short time, requires specific machinery and is designed to produce an end product that is easily transported. So haymakers try to produce a high-quality feed that can be moved to livestock systems. Silage is often a better nutritional feed than hay but is heavy and cumbersome to transport so it is often made and used within a forage-livestock system. Silage requires specific machinery but is not as time sensitive as hay, however, storage can be expensive.

Another use for mechanically harvesting forage involves the concept of "greenchop." When lush forage is available but livestock cannot get to the pasture, fresh forage is harvested each day and brought to the animals. This is a laborous, daily task but may be needed when fencing is not adequate, animals cannot not be moved, or the available forage is not located near the animals.

Having livestock graze pastures greatly reduces the work of managers and fresh feed is high in quality so grazing management should be reflected in every decision yet mechanically harvested forage does serve vital roles in forage-livestock systems.