Humans are often reminded that good health is greatly influenced by what and how much we eat. For humans, healthy eating will lead to fewer medical problems and longer life. We often focus on what we eat especially with babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and performance athletes. Humans in many countries are also concerned with diet when trying to lose weight. Because many humans enjoy eating but don't want to continually gain weight, we read labels looking for fat, sodium, and calories numbers. In many ways though if livestock were looking at labels they would be interested in different things.

Forage crops, by definition, are those grown primarily for feeding livestock: whether harvested by grazing animals or by machines and fed to animals. Managers of livestock must focus on the diet of their animals, not only to decrease health problems and extend life like humans do, but to develop a better product such as wool, milk, cheese and so on. This focus on production results in the nutritional needs of livestock often being studied more closely than those of humans. Afterall, healthy animals and animal products directly results in better human health. What livestock eat is important and how much is critical to the success of forage-livestock systems.

Forage quality can be defined as the capacity of a forage to supply animal nutrient requirements. It includes the acceptability of the forage, the chemical composition, and the digestibility of the nutrients. Will the animal consume it and be able to digest it? Once digested, will the forage provide the needed nutrients for growth and good health? Forage quality includes characteristics that make forage valuable to animals, the capacity to supply animal requirements, the characteristics affecting consumption and utilization which are palatability, chemical composition, and digestibility. All that technical phrasing really says that forage quality lies in the potential of that forage to produce milk, meat, wool, or work. The animal is the machine that tests forage quality and the animal's production is the critical measurement.

Whether the forage being evaluated is hay, silage, greenchop, or pasture the quality directly impacts animal behavior. But most often forage quality and testing refers to hay quality because hay is marketed and the price varies greatly with the hay type and quality. Silage is often made, stored, and consumed on a farm since it is difficult to transport, but is the focus of quality testing when used to improve production such as dairy cows. Greenchop is grown, cut, and taken directly to animals while animals are taken to pastures. hay is often a cash crop so a lot of emphasis is placed on hay quality.

Generally there are several decisions that forage managers can make to improve the quality of their forage. The first consideration is deciding what species should be planted for use as forage. Forage producers must know their species well enough to decide which will be the best feed. This decision will include an understanding of the nutritional needs of the livestock. The most important consideration is the stage of maturity the forage is in when harvested. Another factor contributing to forage quality that managers should consider is maintaining the quality. Handling, storage, and feeding will reduce quality in various ways.