Animal production is a fundamental component of the food supply chain, and with an increasing global population production levels are set to increase. Ruminant animals in particular are valuable in their ability to convert a fibre-rich forage diet into a high-quality protein product for human consumption, although this benefit is offset by inefficiencies in rumen fermentation that contribute to emission of significant quantities of methane and nitrogenous waste. Through co-operation between plant and animal sciences, we can identify how the nutritional requirements of ruminants can be satisfied by high-quality forages for the future. Selective forage plant breeding has supported crop improvement for nearly a century. Early plant breeding programmes were successful in terms of yield gains (4% to 5% per decade), with quality traits becoming increasingly important breeding targets (e.g. enhanced disease resistance and digestibility). Recently, demands for more sustainable production systems have required high yielding, high-quality forages that enable efficient animal production with minimal environmental impact. Achieving this involves considering the entire farm system and identifying opportunities for maximising nutrient use efficiency in both forage and animal components. Forage crops of the future must be able to utilise limited resources (water and nutrients) to maximise production on a limited land area and this may require us to consider alternative plant species to those currently in use. Furthermore, new breeding targets will be identified as the interactions between plants and the animals that consume them become better understood. This will ensure that available resources are targeted at delivering maximum benefits to the animal through enhanced transformation efficiency.