Fodder and Forage and Multipurpose plants

What is the difference between fodder and forage?

Fodder is feed that is harvested and taken to the animal, forage is browsed on by the animal while still on the land.  For most NZ farms, forage is pasture or some other mono crop (such as chicory or brassica, etc.) which the livestock graze on. Fodder is hay, silage, haylage or some other feed product which is brought onto the property (Grain, palm kernel etc.) But in other countries it is common practice for livestock to browse/graze on a wide variety of plants, from various grasses, annuals and perennials, shrubs and trees. Though it is considered that sheep are grazers (eating grasses and low growing plants) and goats are browsers (eating mainly leaves, soft shoots, or fruits of high-growing, generally woody, plants such as shrubs) from what we have seen, from our own experience, sheep and cattle will happily browse as well. In fact, on entering some of our paddocks they will nibble the fresh grass then promptly head for the far corners to eat their favourite shrubs, which are leaning over the fence (often pruning the neighbor’s rose). This also applies to our burn piles, which they are quite excited by, to the extent of clambering to the top of them to nibble the branches.

The Rhododendron is a beautiful but toxic addition to many gardens. There are many common garden plants which are toxic to livestock.

But before allowing your livestock to forage you must first learn what they cannot eat, this is a quite comprehensive list of toxic plants in NZ for both people and livestock,

It was through our observations of our own livestock that we became interested in fodder and forage plants. We already had an interest in the permaculture principle that all plants should have multiple uses (with the exception of some plants which are grown solely for food or medicine) so it was logical that one of these uses should be fodder or forage if they were to be planted in or near a grazing area. Common practices for planting in these types of areas in NZ are shelter belts, protected specimens or poles, fenced off blocks or under-grazing silviculture.

Tree Lucerne is a highly nutritious fodder shrub

But with our limited land space none of these options made sense, it was the observation of naturalized Tree Lucerne plantings and native mixed shelter-belts along Manawatu’s roads that gave me the idea of mixed hedgerows. It made sense to combine the functionality of the shelter and privacy that a hedge provides with the diverse uses of a mixed planting hedgerow.

This led to a lot of research into suitable plants to create these hedgerows and I was surprised to find limited information on this topic relating to New Zealand. Primarily in NZ fodder/forage trees tend to be limited to Poplars and Willows, however these are usually grown for their effectiveness in mitigating erosion not for Fodder. Tree Lucerne is also a well know, excellent feed plant especially in times of drought, but is more likely to be found growing wild on roadsides than incorporated into the farming systems. There are many other highly thought of plants in other countries, such as Mulberry, which is considered to be highly nutritious, Maple and Acacia species and of course many fruit and nut trees which also provide food for people, chooks and pigs. There has been extensive trials and research into fodder/forage plants around the world, while New Zealand, again, only seems to focus on the Willow and Poplar. Even among our native species there appears to be little research done into nutritional values but there is plenty of anecdotal references to livestock browsing certain plants. This also relates to our observations with our own animals in what they choose to browse, therefore many of these native plants on our list, which are non-toxic, we have classed as forageable or Native fodder to differentiate from the more well-known fodder species. The exceptions to this are Flax and Karo which are well known for their anti-worm properties and also Broadleaf/Kapuka which is considered highly palatable.

Corokia, Flax and Tarata planted as a native hedgerow.

Another point I would like to raise here is timing. Just as you might plant an orchard with early, mid and late fruiting varieties, the same care should be taken to consider fodder/forage over the year. Trees and shrubs which are evergreen provide year-round fodder/forage, this is where the Natives, Wattles, Feijoa, Holm oak and Tree Lucerne really stand out. Though Tree Lucerne also is extremely beneficial in times of drought making it a must in any fodder/forage planting. Fruit and nuts provide another source of fodder and forage. We once lived next to a farm which raised pigs, he had it timed so that the weaners would ready for their final fattening when the walnuts were dropping. If we look at the fruit, nut and vegetable fodder in regards to pigs we could develop a system where in the colder months feed was provided in the form of pumpkins, fodder beet or swedes.

photo credit

We farm Kune Kunes, so as the grass growth increases less supplementary feed is needed but as the early plums come on we allow access under the fruit trees so they can forage the windfalls. If the orchard is succession planted this can carry them through to late autumn with apples and nuts available and then back onto the stored or winter crops. Breeding of pigs would be timed for when food was freely available and fattening complete before winter. If we address each animal in this way we can create fodder/forage systems which allow for year-round feeding and remove our reliance on brought in feed.




So, what is a Multipurpose Plant?

‘While all trees can be said to serve several purposes, such as providing habitat, shade, or soil improvement; multipurpose trees have a greater impact on a farmer’s well being because they fulfill more than one basic human need. In most cases multipurpose trees have a primary role; such as being part of a living fence, or a windbreak, or used in an alley cropping system. In addition to this they will have one or more secondary roles, most often supplying a family with food or firewood, or both.’ Wikipedia

When we look at planting we need to consider the area, the desired outcome or use and how best to maximize the use of the space. If, for instance, you had a large open space you may wish to plant a specimen tree, by considering what other uses this tree could have it opens you to the possibilities of the use of the space. You could also have fruit or nuts, pollen for bees, food for birds or fodder for livestock. Deciduous leaves for the compost and to allow winter sun or evergreen for year-round shade or shelter. It could one day provide timber or firewood or even a platform for a tree-house. Or it could be nitrogen fixing to improve the soil around it.

Jerusalem Artichokes have many uses including food, fodder, bee plant, summer shelter and compost carbon

This also applies to mixed plantings, if you plant a hedge for privacy that same hedge could also provide fruit, herbs for cooking and leaves for tea, bee and bird food, soil enhancing legumes or mineral accumulators, fodder for rabbits or chooks, habitats for beneficial insects. The more you think about it the more uses you’ll find and the more diverse and sustainable your landscape will become.

Visit our shop to buy our handbook,

Fodder and Forage – Creating Diverse Animal Feed Systems in New Zealand

This handbook is designed as a convenient collection of plants and information to aid in the creation of diverse alternative feed systems for your livestock. It expands on the information on this website,, including a more extensive collection of fodder and forage plants. If you are developing a diverse fodder and forage system this is the book to get, to my knowledge there are no other resources which have collated this extent of information into an easy to use guide.

Pasture is the most common livestock food source utilised by many of New Zealand’s farmers, lifestyle blockers and homesteaders, but there is a vast selection of plants that can be utilised as well. Incorporating trees, shrubs, perennials and herbs etc into your feed systems can provide medicinal support, improve digestive health and regenerate land health. Utilising traditional methods of tree hay or making tree silage can extend the function of these plants as stored feed for periods of low feed availability. This extends the production capabilities of your property and its resilience capacity.

For more Fodder and Forage information and blog posts check out the category link Fodder and Forage

Below are some links to further information
Fodder Farm Fodder and Forage Plants List
Fodder and Forage for Chooks
Fodder for Rabbits 
Fodder and Forage for Horses – a Natural System

fruit trees are a useful addition for food, forage, bees and shelter

Information references: