Have you heard the claims for the legume called sainfoin? They boast: better than alfalfa, a 200 RFV from bud to bloom, easy to establish, more palatable. It sounds great, doesn’t it, but what’s the rest of the story?

Sainfoin, which has been nicknamed ‘the poor man’s alfalfa’, has several good characteristics. Its main advantage is its bloat-free characteristic, making it grazing-friendly. It also tolerates low phosphorus and high pH soils well, but it hates acid, wet, or salty soils. It produces very palatable hay or grazing, and compared to alfalfa, forage quality declines less rapidly as the plant matures.

However, in almost all areas where alfalfa is well-adapted, sainfoin does not yield as well. It does begin spring growth very fast, frequently out-yielding alfalfa at first harvest, but sainfoin regrows very slowly. Nitrogen fixation also can be a major problem for sainfoin, even when properly inoculated with the right kind of bacteria. As a result, nitrogen fertilizer often is needed to maintain productivity. Even then, sainfoin is susceptible to root and crown rot diseases that can quickly shorten stand life.

In my opinion, sainfoin is most suitable for areas that usually get just spring grazing or only one hay cutting per year, especially if soils are calcareous. For most other uses, though, alfalfa and other traditional forages probably will outperform sainfoin.