Forage is a wide-ranging term. Its definition can be given as those parts of the plants that are consumable and digestible other than separated grains that are used as a feed for animals and can be harvested for feeding. It includes browse (buds, leaves, twigs of woody species), herbage (leaves, stems, roots, and seeds of non-woody species). Thus, forage is a term that includes both, plants and plant parts that are edible and consumed in many forms by livestock. Fodder, on the other hand, is that plant material that is not directly fed to animals but cut before feeding when the plant is in green stage.
Another most widely used term is Forb, which is a common term used for an herb that does not include grasses and non-grasses (legumes) for example, brassica, cauliflower, and cabbage, etc.
One must not be confused in terms like hay, haylage, herbage, and silage. Hay is an animal feed that is produced after the green fodder is allowed to dehydrate to a moisture level of 15% or less to stop the running biological processes which rapidly build up heat.
Haylage in simpler words is a term that combines the properties of both, hay and silage. Haylage is a no moisture stage in which the moisture content is lowered to 40-60% by cutting and then dried in the field before it is chopped. It is mostly fed to horses and cattle.
Herbage is a collective term used for all the above fleshy biomass of a forage crop fed to livestock. Silage is the kind of animal feed that is obtained from fresh and juicy fodder and then it is stored in a suitable container and is allowed to ferment in the absence of oxygen, that is, anaerobic condition to avoid the loss of many nutrients.
Role of Forages in National Economy
As the world is heading towards new technologies and alternatives, the number of farms and people who practice farming are decreasing on a regular trend but challenges are increasing day by day to provide an ample amount of safe and healthy food for an increasing population. Humans are benefited on a large scale by ruminants and other herbivores by providing:
- Milk and meat products are a quick source of vital amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
- Wool for clothing.
- Power for transportation.
- Manure for fuel and fertilizers.
- Pleasure by keeping animals as pets. Animals are also used for competitive and supportive events
- A source of harvesting desirable and cutting unwanted vegetation.
Complimentary Benefits from Forages
Forages serve as a great source of nutrients for wild and domestic animals. Also, forages provide several complementary benefits but most of them are hardly valued in economic terms. Forages play a vital role in the wellbeing of humans through:
- Reduction of soil erosion
- Enhancement of soil structure and fertility of arable land
- Furnishing the habitat for biologically diverse plants and wildlife.
- Serving as a shelter for the environment from pollutants such as residues, windblown soils, municipal and farm waste and other substances causing toxicity to soil.
- Outdoor recreation and pleasure
- Forage biomass used to conserve energy as inexhaustible source
Future of Forages
A national philosophy must be goal-oriented and supported by government policies. Forage plants and management systems in arid and semi-arid regions are different from those of humid areas. All of these multiple associations serve as a primary national resource for grazing livestock and wildlife. This should sustainably protect the environment. Any nation may become self-sufficient in diet, first in plant-based products than in animal-based products. The demands of people will increase for environment protection, for landscape with enhanced aesthetic values and easy access to recreation.
Producers need to develop management practices that focus on the multiple use of resources to meet these needs. These resources include benefits to fish, wildlife and human welfare in addition to environmental preservation and livestock production.
Forages can contribute to energy needs by producing a large amount of biomass by conversion into liquid fuels or other organic field stalks.
The value of forages to national and human betterment needs to be reconsidered by new technologies and variations in human needs.