This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Forage legumes provide high yields, protein, and good animal performance while improving soil fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air. Alfalfa is the highest yielding and most widely-used legume but can cause bloat. Legumes like cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil do not cause bloat. As little as 25% sainfoin in a pasture can virtually eliminate the risk of bloat even if the other 75% is alfalfa.
The problem is that older sainfoin varieties don’t regrow as fast as alfalfa after grazing. Alfalfa’s aggressive nature allows it to outcompete sainfoin for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Without careful grazing management, sainfoin can disappear from a pasture in a few years. This might be because plant breeders have traditionally selected new varieties for clipped forage yield under monoculture conditions. This doesn’t reflect the challenges sainfoin faces when grown with alfalfa and grazed.
Surya Acharya at AAFC Lethbridge has been breeding sainfoin that regrows more rapidly after grazing and persists longer in mixtures with alfalfa. New varieties (e.g. Mountainview and Glenview) have already been released, but there are more in the pipeline. An update on these ongoing efforts was published in 2017 (Performance of Mixed Alfalfa-Sainfoin Pastures and Grazing Steers in Western Canada, Professional Animal Scientist 33:472). Continue reading