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Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia)

Datasheet

Description
Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Sainfoin, common sainfoin, esparcet, holy clover [English]; esparceta, pipirigallo [Spanish]; sanfeno [Portuguese]; sainfoin cultivé, esparcette cultivée, esparcette à feuilles de vesce [French]; Saat-Esparsette, Futter-Esparsette [German]; 驴食草 [Chinese]

Synonyms 

Hedysarum onobrychis L., Onobrychis sativa Lam., Onobrychis vulgaris Hill

Feed categories 
Related feed(s) 
Description 

Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) is an erect, perennial herbaceous legume. It can reach up to a height of 80 cm. Stems arise from basal buds on a branched root stock. Roots are deep tap-roots. Leaves are pinnate, bearing 5-6 pairs of obovate leaflets. Melliferous pink (seldom white) flowers are borne in erect conical racemes. Sainfoin flowers twice a year in spring and autumn. Flowering starts with the lower flowers and moves up the stem. Fruits are single seeded pods that bear spikes and can cling to the fur of animals and thus propagate the species.

Sainfoin is grown for pasture, hay or silage since it is very palatable to livestock. However, since sainfoin cannot withstand heavy or continuous grazing it should be managed as follows: a first growth in spring is devoted to hay or silage, and the re-growth at the beginning of autumn can be grazed (FAO, 2009). It can yield 1 t/ha during the first year after seedling to 8 t/ha during the second year (Ecocrop, 2009), and up to 7 to 15 t of dry matter/ha/year thereafter (FAO, 2009). As the nutritive value of sainfoin decreases with maturity, the cutting stage must be carefully chosen in order to give best quality feed and ensure as much dry matter as possible (Bal et al., 2006). Sainfoin can also be profitably mixed with grasses (timothy, fescue, wheat) or with other legumes (alfalfa, white clover) to make hay or silage (FAO, 2009; Wang et al., 2007).

Distribution 

Sainfoin originates from Turkey, Iran and Europe. It was first cultivated in northern France (Delgado Munoz, 2008) and in the United Kingdom (Koivisto et al., 2001). It is now widespread in warm-temperate Europe (as far as Sweden), Asia, Mediterranean countries and western North America. It thrives well in warm-temperate conditions in regions where annual rainfall is above 330 mm. It is tolerant to drought and cold if nitrogen reserves are sufficient. It can be profitably irrigated.

Environmental impact 

As a nitrogen-fixing legume, sainfoin is used both as green manure and cover crop. In abandoned areas and hill slopes, where erosion may be a problem, sainfoin seedlings may prevent desertification and erosion, and maintain soil fertility. Its melliferous flowers attract bees and birds and enhance biodiversity.

The high tannin concentration of sainfoin prevents bloating in ruminants, and reduces methane and ammonia production. It is also beneficial to include sainfoin in grass pasture as it lowers the N fertilizer requirements of the grass and thus the N intake and subsequent urinary N output of cattle (Waghorn, 2008).

Nutritional aspects
Ruminants 

As a tanniferous plant with a tannin content ranging from 4% to 10%, sainfoin has beneficial effects in ruminants. These effects are:

  • enhanced sulphur-containing amino acids digestibility (Waghorn, 1990) through tannin protein-binding. This has positive effects on wool production (in sheep) and reproductive performances (Waghorn, 2008) ;
  • reduced bloating and dietary methane and ammonia emissions ;
  • enhanced animal health through direct or indirect anthelmintic activity of condensed tannins (Hoste et al., 2006).

    Because of its crude protein content, sainfoin can improve the self-sufficiency of dairy farms, in terms of homegrown protein-rich forages (Borreani et al., 2003).

    Pasture

    Fresh sainfoin is suitable to feed cattle and small ruminants. It is as highly palatable as grasses (Kirilov et al., 2006), or crushed barley and maize silage (Klopfer et al., 1981). Sainfoin grazing resulted in increased body weight gain, wool production and reproductive performance (Waghorn, 2008). It was recommended to grow it as a monoculture in order to have a higher lamb production per hectare (Karnezos et al., 1994). It may also be mixed in grass pasture, where it resulted in greater profitability (Karnezos et al., 1992).

    Hay

    Sainfoin hay is highly palatable, contains more tannins and has a higher metabolizable energy level than Lotus corniculatus and Cichorium intybus (Scharenberg et al., 2007). It has a higher efficiency of N digestion than alfalfa when cut at the vegetative stage (Aufrère et al., 2008). In dairy goats, sainfoin hay was well accepted and a repeated distribution resulted in milk yield, milk fat and protein content similar to grass. Sainfoin hay also decreased nematode infestation (Paolini et al., 2005; Hoste et al., 2006).

    Silage

    Sainfoin silage has a beneficial effect on dry matter intake, dry matter digestibility and cellulose digestibility in sheep (Tatl et al., 2001). Crude protein utilizable in the duodenum and metabolizable energy were also improved (Scharenberg et al., 2007). The silage is also a good source of macro and micro-minerals, except for Cu, Zn and Mg, which should be supplemented. The N digestibility of sainfoin silage is lower than that of other legume silages (Fraser et al., 2000).

    Rabbits 

    Sainfoin has been recommended for decades as a basic forage for small rabbit units, mostly due to its relatively high content in protein and calcium (Pope, 1934; Benoit et al., 1948). Because of its high content of fibre, and particularly lignin, sainfoin hay has been added to reference diets as a safety ingredient in studies on the nutrition of rabbit breeding does (Hammond, 1965).

    When sainfoin is fed fresh, its main limitation is its high water content (about 75-80%), which limits feed intake. When used in small scale production units, green sainfoin must be supplemented with dry materials such as hay, cereal grains or compound feeds (Resti, 1995; Mesini, 2001).

    Very little information is available on the relative nutritive value of sainfoin compared to other forages. In China, a study reported that the nutritional value of sainfoin was slightly lower than that of alfalfa cultivated in the same area (Zhu et al., 1988). This is consistent with the lower protein and energy digestibilities of a 13% protein sainfoin hay (49% and 43%, respectively) when compared to a 16% protein alfalfa hay (62% and 48%, respectively) (Fernandez Carmona et al., 1996). However, it must be noted that protein digestibility was increased by about 0.83% for each increase of 1% in the protein level for this type of forage (Villamide et al., 1998), and the energy digestibility increased by 1.07% for each decrease of 1% in ADF content (Fernandez Carmona et al., 1996).

    It does not seem necessary to fix a maximum limit for the inclusion level of sainfoin hay in pelleted diets since in the previous studies the experimental level was 100% for both sainfoin and alfalfa, and the pellets were well accepted (Fernandez Carmona et al., 1996).

    Nutritional tables
    Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

    Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

    Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Dry matter % as fed 22.3 3.6 16.0 29.4 30
    Crude protein % DM 16.9 2.7 12.4 21.3 53
    Crude fibre % DM 25.8 4.9 18.5 39.0 31
    NDF % DM 35.4 5.7 25.6 45.4 35
    ADF % DM 30.1 4.0 22.3 39.1 40
    Lignin % DM 9.4 1.3 7.0 10.9 20
    Ether extract % DM 4.1 0.2 3.8 4.5 17
    Ash % DM 8.0 1.2 6.5 10.6 53
    Gross energy MJ/kg DM 19.0 *
     
    Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Calcium g/kg DM 14.1 2.1 11.3 17.8 17
    Phosphorus g/kg DM 4.6 1.3 2.2 6.1 30
    Potassium g/kg DM 14.7 2.5 11.4 16.7 4
    Sodium g/kg DM 0.3 0.0 0.3 0.3 4
    Magnesium g/kg DM 2.7 0.6 1.8 3.8 18
    Manganese mg/kg DM 45 8 32 61 18
    Zinc mg/kg DM 60 14 43 93 16
    Copper mg/kg DM 12 2 10 17 16
    Iron mg/kg DM 141 22 119 218 18
     
    Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Alanine % protein 5.3 0.2 5.2 5.7 4
    Arginine % protein 4.5 0.2 4.4 4.7 4
    Aspartic acid % protein 10.1 0.2 9.9 10.4 4
    Cystine % protein 1.0 0.0 1.0 1.1 4
    Glutamic acid % protein 9.8 0.1 9.7 9.9 4
    Glycine % protein 4.6 0.1 4.5 4.7 4
    Histidine % protein 2.0 0.2 1.8 2.4 4
    Isoleucine % protein 4.2 0.2 4.0 4.3 4
    Leucine % protein 7.4 0.2 7.2 7.6 4
    Lysine % protein 5.2 0.7 4.2 6.0 4
    Methionine % protein 1.6 0.1 1.5 1.7 4
    Phenylalanine % protein 5.4 0.1 5.3 5.5 4
    Proline % protein 4.6 0.0 4.5 4.6 4
    Serine % protein 3.9 0.1 3.9 4.2 4
    Threonine % protein 4.0 0.1 3.9 4.2 4
    Tyrosine % protein 4.5 0.1 4.4 4.6 4
    Valine % protein 5.1 0.1 4.9 5.2 4
     
    Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 30.0 25.0 35.0 2
     
    Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    OM digestibility, Ruminant % 69.4 5.2 59.5 78.1 27 *
    Energy digestibility, ruminants % 66.4 *
    DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.6 *
    ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.1 *
    Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 68.8 4.5 58.4 76.0 31
    a (N) % 26.3 14.4 15.5 42.7 3
    b (N) % 57.8 11.1 45.9 67.8 3
    c (N) h-1 0.117 0.022 0.098 0.141 3
    Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 69 *
    Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 65 6 59 71 3 *

    The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.

    References

    Alibes et al., 1990; Aufrère et al., 2008; Djouvinov et al., 1998; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Pace et al., 1984; Tisserand et al., 1989; Turgut et al., 2004; Ulyatt et al., 1979

    Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:21

    Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Dry matter % as fed 89.7 3.8 84.2 94.4 14
    Crude protein % DM 15.2 3.3 9.0 22.1 17
    Crude fibre % DM 26.6 6.4 13.1 32.7 12
    NDF % DM 47.7 10.6 32.4 64.0 10
    ADF % DM 35.7 8.7 17.9 50.6 10
    Lignin % DM 9.0 1.9 6.6 11.8 8
    Ether extract % DM 2.1 1
    Ether extract, HCl hydrolysis % DM 2.0 1
    Ash % DM 7.9 2.5 5.7 16.1 16
    Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.5 *
     
    Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Calcium g/kg DM 13.7 1.1 12.3 15.0 4
    Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.1 1.4 1.9 4.9 4
    Sodium g/kg DM 0.1 1
    Magnesium g/kg DM 2.3 2.0 2.6 2
    Iron mg/kg DM 116 1
     
    Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Alanine % protein 4.7 1
    Arginine % protein 4.5 1
    Aspartic acid % protein 10.3 1
    Cystine % protein 1.0 1
    Glutamic acid % protein 9.0 1
    Glycine % protein 4.6 1
    Histidine % protein 2.1 1
    Isoleucine % protein 4.3 1
    Leucine % protein 7.1 1
    Lysine % protein 5.2 1
    Methionine % protein 1.6 1
    Phenylalanine % protein 4.9 1
    Proline % protein 8.6 1
    Serine % protein 4.0 1
    Threonine % protein 4.1 1
    Tyrosine % protein 3.7 1
    Valine % protein 5.5 1
     
    Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Tannins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 54.6 39.9 6.0 111.3 5
     
    Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    OM digestibility, Ruminant % 63.2 5.6 52.6 68.4 9 *
    OM digestibility, ruminants (gas production) % 69 4 64 73 3
    Energy digestibility, ruminants % 59.7 *
    DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.0 *
    ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.9 *
    ME ruminants (gas production) MJ/kg DM 11.0 0.8 10.2 11.8 3
    Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 64.4 8.4 46.4 76.2 10
    a (N) % 19.6 1
    b (N) % 72.1 1
    c (N) h-1 0.092 1
    Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 70 *
    Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 63 *
     
    Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
    Energy digestibility, rabbit % 44.4 *
    DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.2 1
    MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.8 *

    The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.

    References

    AFZ, 2011; Alibes et al., 1990; Aufrère et al., 2008; Bal et al., 2006; Fernandez Carmona et al., 1996; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Kraiem et al., 1990; Sarcicek et al., 2002; Scharenberg et al., 2008; Tisserand et al., 1989

    Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:21

    Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
    Dry matter % as fed 31.1 8.9 19.6 43.0 5  
    Crude protein % DM 14.6 3.2 12.1 18.3 5  
    Crude fibre % DM 27.4   23.9 30.8 2  
    NDF % DM 45.2 6.5 40.4 54.1 4  
    ADF % DM 37.7 4.4 34.0 42.3 4  
    Lignin % DM 11.1       1  
    Ether extract % DM 3.0       1  
    Ash % DM 8.0 0.4 7.5 8.4 5  
    Water-soluble carbohydrates % DM 2.9       1  
    Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.7         *
                   
    Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
    Calcium g/kg DM 11.2       1  
    Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.2       1  
    Magnesium g/kg DM 2.5       1  
                   
    Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
    OM digestibility, Ruminant % 68.3 7.7 52.7 68.3 3 *
    Energy digestibility, ruminants % 64.4         *
    DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.0         *
    ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.6         *
    Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 51.3 24.4 14.9 65.8 4  

    The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.

    References

    Alibes et al., 1990; Fraser et al., 2000; Gomez Cabrera, 2009; Tatl et al., 2001; Wang et al., 2007

    Last updated on 02/05/2013 17:28:44

    References
    References 
    Datasheet citation 

    Heuzé V., Tran G., Lebas F., 2015. Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://feedipedia.org/node/703 Last updated on October 6, 2015, 11:29

    English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)