Chemical composition, digestibility, nutritive value and intake of hay from an agri-environmental management (EH) were compared with those from hay (Lolium perenne) from an intensive management (IH). IH was of low to moderate quality because of unfavourable weather conditions. EH was harvested mid-June of 2000 (EH1) and 2001 (EH2) on the same sward that had not received mineral fertilizer for 10 years. The EH was characterized by a species-rich botanical composition. On average, it had lower contents of protein (32%), NDF (9%) and ash (35%), and a higher concentration of water-soluble carbohydrates (117%) than IH. Digestibility of dry and organic matter, determined with sheep, was not different between IH and EH and averaged 59 and 63%, respectively. Crude fibre and NDF digestibility were lower in EH (58 and 57%, respectively) than in IH (70 and 69%, respectively). Net energy value for lactation did not differ between IH and EH and amounted to 4.78 MJ per kg DM. True protein digested in the small intestine and rumen degraded protein balance were lower in EH (63 and -60 g per kg DM) than in IH (71 and -33 g per kg DM). Intake of hay was investigated in Holstein-Friesian heifers and Belgian Blue double-muscled heifers (mean BW 280 +/- 22 kg and 269 +/- 21 kg, respectively), and in Belgian Blue non-lactating and non-pregnant double-muscled cows (initial BW 642 +/- 82 kg), using a cross-over design. Hay was freely available. It was supplemented with 1 kg concentrate daily. Dry matter intake from hay was higher for EH than for IH in heifers (4% and 13%, respectively in Holstein-Friesian and Belgian Blue heifers) and in cows (22%). Hay from an agri-environmental management may be used for low-performing animals, as energy intake only exceeded maintenance requirements by 20 to 35%. Several characteristics of EH were different between years, such as dry matter digestibility, net energy value for lactation and fermentable organic matter content.