Sainfoin – A new light is shone on an old forage plant
By Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Sainfoin comes from two French words, "sain" and ""foin" meaning "healthy hay." It is native to and has been grown for centuries in Europe and western Asia.
What is unique to the plant is that sainfoin contains a moderate concentration of condensed tannins, which help cattle process plant protein more efficiently. This in turn prevents bloat (the build-up of gas in the rumen), a condition common in the spring, when pasture plants are at their most luscious pre-bud stage. Bloat can kill cattle within minutes, so sainfoin and other forages high in condensed tannins are a desirable addition to grazing lands.
Canadian research into the forage crop boomed in the '60s and '70s, but tapered off due to the crop's poor ability to grow in mixed forage stands (for example, with alfalfa or other standard forage plants). This reduced stand longevity (ability to thrive and re-grow year after year) and meant pasture managers had to replant them frequently, which was too expensive for most to consider worthwhile.
However, sainfoin has made a comeback in recent years, with a new Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)-produced variety, AC Mountainview. Developed by AAFC's Dr. Surya Acharya at Lethbridge, Alta., this variety has proven itself with excellent productivity and good longevity.
What's adding excitement to this somewhat forgotten crop is that sainfoin forage quality is similar to alfalfa, and forage production is generally similar to or slightly lower than alfalfa, depending on the growing conditions, although AC Mountainview has forage production equivalent to alfalfa. That holds big potential for pasture managers.
Other developmental sainfoin varieties are also being tested for their forage production and stand longevity in southwest Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta, which are Canada's primary grazing lands.
Testing will be done at AAFC facilities in Swift Current, Sask., in Lethbridge and in conjunction with the Western Beef Development Centre at Lanigan, Sask. Results from this work are expected in 2017.