Sainfoin (Onobrychis sativa) is a perennial, leguminous, clover-like
forage plant of the bean family. The word Sainfoin is equivalent to the
French words for sound or wholesome hay. It is also frequently called
Esparcette or Asperset, more especially in Germany. It is further
in England by the name Cock's Head, French Grass and Medick Vetchling.
In some parts of France and Switzerland the name has been and probably
is yet applied to lucerne (Medicago sativa).
In its habit of growth it is more woody in the rootstock than clover and
more branched. It also grows to a greater average height. The stems,
which are covered with fine hairs, bear numerous leaves long and
pinnate. The blossoms are numerous and of an attractive, pinkish color,
brightening into a crimson tint. The seed pods are flattened from side
to side and wrinkled, and are also sickle-shaped. They bear but one
seed. The roots are strong and more or less branched.
Sainfoin, as already intimated, is perennial in its habit of growth.
When a field is once well set with the plants, it should continue to
produce crops for a decade, but will eventually be crowded out with
weeds or other grasses. It grows very early in the season, quite as
early, if not earlier, than alfalfa, and continues to grow until autumn.
The feeding value of sainfoin is much the same as that of alfalfa. It is
much esteemed where it can be grown for the production of pasture, of
soiling food, and also hay, valuable for enriching the land, through the
medium of the roots, and also when the tops are plowed under as green
Sainfoin is native throughout the whole of Central Europe and over
much of Siberia. Although native to the southern counties of England, it
does not appear to have been cultivated there before the year 1651, at
which time it is said to have been introduced from Flanders. From what
has been said with reference to the distribution of sainfoin in Europe
and Asia, it will be apparent that it is a hardy plant, which has
highest adaptation for climates temperate and mild to moderately cool.
Its hardihood has been shown by its surviving the winters in the
latitude of the St. Lawrence River, but the abundant snow covering then
provided should not be lost sight of.
Its adaptation to the United States does not appear to have been proved
yet, except in limited areas. In some of the Montana valleys good crops
have been grown with much success in many of those western valleys, and
even on the bench lands at the base of foothills. Nor would there seem
to be any good reasons for supposing that good crops could not be grown
in various parts of the United States where the soil is suitable.
In Canada, sainfoin has succeeded in Quebec. In trials made by the
author at the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph success was only
partial, but the trials were limited. There would seem to be no good
reasons why this plant should not succeed in many places in Canada where
limestone soils prevail.
This plant is best adapted to dry soils calcareous in their composition
and somewhat porous in character. This explains its great affinity for
the chalk soils which abound in the south of England. On the dry,
limestone soils of this country it ought to succeed. It has shown much
adaptation for the volcanic soils of the Western mountain region, where
it has been tried. On stiff clays it grows too slowly to be entirely
satisfactory. It ought not to be sown on soils wet or swampy in
Since sainfoin is perennial in its habit of growth, and since, when once
well set, it will retain its hold upon the soil for several years, it is
not in the strict sense of the term a rotation plant. When it is grown,
however, it should be followed by crops which require large quantities
of nitrogen easily accessible, to enable them to complete their growth.
If this plant should ever be grown to any considerable extent in the
mountain States, much that has been said with reference to the place for
alfalfa in the rotation will also apply to sainfoin. (See page 135.)
It has been found more difficult to get a good stand of sainfoin plants
than of other varieties of the clover family. This is owing to the low
germinating power frequently found in the seed. The stand of plants is
frequently found to be too thin and scattering. Weeds, therefore, and
sometimes grasses are much liable to come into the soil occupied by the
sainfoin and to crowd the same. Because of this it is specially
important that sainfoin shall be sown on a clean seed-bed.
The seed is very frequently sown in the hull, and usually in the early
spring. But there would seem to be no reasons why the seed should not be
sown in the early autumn in localities where alfalfa can be sown thus.
(See page 145.) In the rough form, it is usually broadcasted by hand,
but would probably also feed through a seed drill. When sown apart from
the hull, the seed may be sown by the same methods as alfalfa. (See page
147.) In the rough form, from 3 to 5 bushels per acre are sown. In the
clean form, it is claimed that 40 pounds of seed should be sown, but
that amount of clean and good seed would seem to be excessive on
well-prepared land. The seed in the hull weighs 26 pounds per bushel.
The plan of sowing 2 to 3 pounds per acre of the seed of alsike clover
along with the sainfoin would doubtless be found helpful under some
conditions, as it would tend to thicken the crop, more especially the
Sainfoin is a good pasture plant when properly grazed. It does not
produce bloat in cattle or sheep as alfalfa does. In this fact is found
one of the strongest reason why it should be grown in areas where
alfalfa is wanted for pasture. It will furnish grazing about as early as
alfalfa, and considerably earlier than medium red clover.
This plant is more frequently grown for soiling food than for hay. For
the former use it has high adaptation, since it will furnish several
cuttings of soiling food per season. It will also furnish two cuttings
of hay, or one of hay and one of seed, and under some conditions more
than two cuttings can be obtained. In the latitude of Montreal it is
ready to be cut for hay during the early days of June. It is ready for
being cut when the blossoms begin to expand. Much care is necessary in
curing the hay, in order to prevent the too free shedding of the leaves.
The methods for making alfalfa hay will apply also to sainfoin.
Seed may be obtained from the first or second cutting of the crop. It is
usually obtained from the second cutting, as the yield is much larger
than that obtained from the first cutting. The author has not been able
to obtain any facts based on experience regarding the harvesting of the
seed crop under American field conditions. But the methods followed in
obtaining seed from alfalfa would probably also answer equally well for
sainfoin. Great care is necessary in handling the seed crop, owing to
the ease with which the seed shatters. Special pains are also necessary
to keep the germinating power of the seed from injury from overheating.
Nor does the seed seem able to retain germinating power as long as the
seeds of some other varieties of clover. In experiments conducted by
Professor C. A. Zavitz at the Ontario Experiment Station at Guelph in
1902 and 1903, the average yield per acre was 426.1 pounds.
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