With warmer springs, herbivores migrating to Arctic breeding grounds may experience phenological mismatches between their energy demands and the availability of high quality forage. However, the timing of high quality forage relative to the timing of grazing is often unknown. In coastal western Alaska, approximately one million migratory geese arrive each spring to breed where foliar %N and C:N ratios are linked to gosling survival and population growth. We conducted a three-year experiment where we manipulated the start of the growing season using warming chambers and grazing times using captive Pacific black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) to examine how the timing of these events influences the quality of an important forage species. Our results suggest that grazing timing plays a much greater role than an advanced growing season in determining forage quality. Both top models included grazing timing, and suggested that compared to typical grazing timing, early grazing significantly reduced foliar %C by 6% and C:N ratios by 16%, while late goose grazing significantly reduced foliar %N by 15% and increased foliar C:N ratios by 21%. While the second-ranking top model included the effect of season, the advanced growing season only reduced %N by 4%, increased %C by <1%, and increased C:N ratios by 5% compared to an ambient growing season. In summary, in years where geese arrive early, they will consume higher quality forage when they arrive and throughout the season, while in years that geese arrive late they will consume lower quality forage when they arrive and for the remainder of the season. When the growing season starts has only a minor influence on this pattern. Our findings suggest that cues determining migration and arrival times to breeding areas are important factors influencing forage quality for geese in western Alaska.