Forage Grasses

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Forage Grasses


herbaceous plants used as feed for live-stock in the form of hay, green feed, silage, haylage, grass meal, and sometimes grain. Forage grasses are grown both in field and fodder crop rotations and apart from crop rotation, and many forage grasses grow on natural grasslands. In the USSR more than 80 species of forage grasses are cultivated, and approximately 5, 000 species grow on natural grasslands.

All forage grasses are subdivided into four economic and botanical groups: grasses, legumes, sedges, and mixed herbs.

In the USSR, grasses (the family Gramineae) are found in all regions except deserts, and they provide most (sometimes as much as 80-90 percent) of the hay or pasture forage on natural grasslands. The feed value of most of these grasses is high, especially before they have matured. During the harvesting of hay (drying) the leaves of grasses, their most valuable part, are well preserved. Quack grass, sedge, and feather grass are widely found on natural grasslands.

In the USSR, legumes (family Leguminosae) are found on natural grasslands in small quantities, but they provide high-quality fodder that is rich in protein and readily eaten by cattle. Among the legumes growing on natural grasslands are birds-foot trefoil, clover (red, alsike, white), meadow peavine, and black medic.

The sedges include plants from the families Cyperaceae and Juncaceae. These plants are generally of little feed value, and they are not readily eaten by livestock. In the northern regions of the forest zone, however, such sedges as Carex gracilis and water sedge often constitute the bulk of hay. In semideserts and deserts many sedges are valuable forage plants.

Forage grasses belonging to other botanical families are called mixed herbs. On natural grasslands they sometimes constitute 60-70 percent of the grass stand. Many are of great economic importance, for example, wormwood and saltwort in regions of nomadic livestock raising. The forage grasses in this group are more nutritious than grasses of the family Gramineae, but most of them are less readily eaten by cattle because of their hairs, thorns, or bitter taste. Fine edible mixed herbs (lady’s-mantle, dandelion, caraway) are desirable if they do not constitute more than 15-20 percent of the grass stand because they improve the edibility and mineral composition of the forage. A large quantity of mixed herbs in a hayfield is undesirable because they crowd out gramineous and leguminous grasses. Among the mixed herbs are many toxic plants (cowbane, false hellebore, aconite monks-hood, blister buttercup) and weeds (sow thistle, corn bindweed). The economic importance of forage grasses is determined by their nutritive value, productivity, edibility, and prevalence.

Forage grasses are subdivided into annuals and perennials according to the length of their life cycle. On the natural grass-lands of the USSR annual grasses are most widespread in semidesert and desert regions, where early flowering and rapidly maturing plants (ephemerals) are often the chief component of spring pastures. Only summer-flowering annual forage grasses are cultivated, including common vetch (Vicia sativa), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), grass peavine, yellow lupine, serradella, crimson clover, Persian clover, black medic, Sudan grass, and annual ryegrass. They are usually grown in field crop rotations and as preliminary crops when the soil is being prepared for seeding hayfields and pastures. A mixture of common vetch or maple pea with oats, serradella, and annual ryegrass is generally sown in the forest zone and northern part of the forest steppe. Sudan grass, sorghum, and mixtures of these grasses combined with chick-pea, soybeans, and foxtail millet are sown in the southern part of the forest steppe, steppe zone, and other arid southern regions. Also planted in these areas are mixtures of vetch or grass peavine and oats and barley.

Perennial grasses constitute the bulk of the natural grasslands of the USSR, especially in the humid steppe and mountain regions. More than 50 species are now under cultivation, including red clover, alfalfa, sainfoin, timothy, awnless bromegrass, meadow fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass. Both pure seedings (for seeds) and mixtures are sown on plowed fields and are used to create cultivated pastures without crop rotations. Mixtures of red clover and timothy are usually sown in the forest zone. Alfalfa, sainfoin, or mixtures of these grasses combined with awnless bromegrass, tall ryegrass, wheatgrass, and slender wheat grass (Agropyron tenerum) are grown in the forest steppe and the less arid parts of the steppe zone. Alfalfa, sain foin, or mixtures of the two combined with bromegrass, wheatgrass, or kochia (family Chenopodiaceae) are sown in the more arid regions.

These forage grasses are also cultivated abroad. Of the legumes the largest acreage is devoted to alfalfa and clover (red, alsike, and white); ryegrass (annual and perennial), fescue, and timothy predominate among the grasses. Wild rye and Bermuda grass are also widely grown in the United States and Canada.


Kormovye rasteniia senokosov ipastbishch SSSR, vols. 1-3. Edited by I. V. Larin. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950-56.
Prirodnye senokosy ipastbishcha. Edited by I. V. Larin. Moscow-Leningrad, 1963.
Larin, I. V. Lugovodstvo i pastbishchnoe khoziaistvo, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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