There are many factors that should be considered in growing a forage crop that directly improve quality. These basic factors should be considered often in the forage-livestock system.

First of all, not all forage species have the same potential to be high quality because they differ in chemical comoposition. Just as candy is not the ideal food for building healthy human bodies, certain forage species have more to offer an animal. The food pyramid for humans shows the potential worth of food groups. A food pyramid for livestock would not have as many groups but some general categories could be listed. Grasses and legumes have good forage potential but each grass or legume has a different combination of nutrients to offer.

Perhaps the most often ignored factor that could improve forage quality is the stage of maturation of the plant being consumed by livestock. As grasses and legumes progress from vegetative to reproductive stages the yield increases but the nutritional value decreases. Managers must balance their yield with quality to obtain the wanted result - better animal performance. Harvested at the correct time will ensure a leafy product. Leaves contain the majority of protein so many leaves and few stems will lead to higher forage quality. Grasses harvested by grazing or machine should be at boot stage for maximum benefit to the animal. Often pastures are left to mature to seedhead (anthesis) before grazing or mechanical harvest. Hay is often gathered when plants are fully reproductive and passed the optimal time for healthy consumption. Legumes should be grazed or harvested at pre-bud to early flower bud stage. Another way to describe this concept is to realize that leafy plants are more beneficial to animals than those which are mostly stems.

High-quality forage is free of foreign materials such as dirt, weeds, wire, and straw. Livestock should be eating as much good forage as possible and consumption of other materials can fill the animals but not supply the needed nutrients.

High-quality forage will also have little foreign material. The presence of weeds, straw, wire, and dirt will mean the livestock are consuming less nutritional things.

The forage should not be damaged or deteriorated during harvest or storage so that nutrients are depleted or molds and bacteria present. Hay, silage, greenchop, and pastures can be damaged by rain, exposure, improper storage, and mishandling. Hay can often be over handled causing leaves to become brittle and broken, eventually lost in the baling process. Silage can be exposed to the elements and rot. Silage must also be stored quickly to retain quality. Improper storage could also result in detrimental bacteria development reducing quality. Greenchop can be harvested and not fed immediately reducing its value to animals. Pastures can be trampled, pugged, flooded, or defoliated improperly.

High-quality forages should be free of antiquality factors that discourage animal consumption. Many plants have qualities that discourage herbivory - the process of animals consuming plants. Some plants have thorns to discourage animals, others have bitter tastes, others are malodorous and some poisonous. These antiquality factors could be chemical components (toxins or alkaloids) or physical distractions (thorns, odors, tastes). Forage producers must be aware of the antiquality factors possible with their selected species or those brought in with weeds and pests.

Species selection, harvesting time, storage, defoliation management, and antiquality factors all influence the quality of forage.