Sugarcane is an important forage resource in sub-tropical and tropical areas as it is used during the winter or dry season when the growth rate of pastures is significantly reduced. The current research study assessed the effect of four vertical sections of sugarcane in a pen trial and the level of sugarcane utilization in a grazing trial on the ingestive behaviour and forage intake of two age groups of steers (1 and 2 years old). The pen trial was comprised of two simultaneous 4 × 4 balanced Latin square designs (one for each age group of animals) of four periods, four animals and four feeding treatments, which consisted of four equal vertical sections of sugarcane. Dry matter (DM) and digestible DM (DDM) intake per kilogram of metabolic weight declined gradually from top to bottom of the sugarcane, with no significant differences between the age groups of steers. This difference in intake was associated with a decline in intake of neutral detergent fibre (NDF) as a proportion of the liveweight of the animal and an increase of total chewing time per kilogram of DM or NDF from top to bottom of the sugarcane. It was concluded that the toughness of plant material played a significant role regulating intake, which was higher for the top sections of sugarcane. In the grazing trial, steers of both age groups grazed down sugarcane in three plots over 9 days. Steers grazed up to four distinctive grazing strata. Digestible DM intake (DDM intake) was high at low levels of horizontal utilization of the top grazing stratum but DDM intake started to decline sharply when this stratum was removed in 0·92 of paddock area (i.e. equivalent to 0·08 of the pasture area remaining un-grazed). It was concluded that the proportion of un-grazed area of the pasture can be used as a grazing management strategy to control forage intake for sugarcane.