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 known

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

first season.

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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