NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

Home > Science > Genetics & Breeding Research > Novel and Non-food crops > Healthy Hay

Healthy Hay

Healthy Hay; the re-invention of sainfoin, a novel resource for sustainable agriculture (HealthyHay FP6-2005-Mobility-1, February 14, 2006)

Contact: Lydia Smith

Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) was grown in Europe before the widespread use of commercial fertilisers in the 1950s2. It is an excellent fodder legume with very high voluntary intakes by cattle, sheep and horses. Moreover, ruminants utilise sainfoin protein much more efficiently than lucerne or soya protein; 50% improvement in net absorption of intestinal amino acids. Similarly, the efficiency with which the metabolisable energy (ME) in Sainfoin is utilised is much higher than for grass of equal ME content. More efficient nutrient utilisation from sainfoin leads to less environmental pollution in terms of nitrogen and methane emissions. This is important because ruminants, and especially dairy cows, are major contributors to environmental pollution. The English term sainfoin is derived from the French ‘sain foin’, meaning ‘healthy hay’; while the Greek Onobrychis viciifolia means 'donkey's favourite fodder'. Research also suggests that because sainfoin possesses certain tannins, it produces anti-parasitic effects. This could explain why it is such a good fodder for young livestock. As sainfoin contains nutrients, that are used more efficiently, and natural compounds, that act against parasites, it is a fodder legume that is ideal for sustainable livestock farming systems. The scientific and technical objectives of HealthyHay are to lay the foundations for new sainfoin breeding programmes in the EU, whilst maintaining its unique nutritional, environmental and veterinary benefits.

This will contribute towards:

  • Developing a new source of home-grown protein
  • Reducing environmental pollution from ruminant production systems (nitrogen and ethane emissions)
  • Developing a fodder legume suitable for sustainable agriculture
  • The foundation for new sainfoin breeding programmes
  • Establishing a collection of the existing sainfoin germplasm and evaluating the agronomic, genetic, nutritional and veterinary properties of this germplasm collection
  • Investigating the unique chemical, nutritional and veterinary properties of sainfoin and their modes of action
  • Developing novel screening tools to underpin future sainfoin breeding programmes


See also

Funding: Sponsored by the European Union Framework Programme (mobility)

Collaborating Organisations: Technische Universität Wien, Austria; University of Reading, Technische Universität München, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France; Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Arrheniusplan, Uppsala, Sweden; Den Kongelige Veterinaer- Denmark; National Agricultural Research Foundation, Greece; Centro de Investigation y Tecnologia Agroalimentaria de Aragon, Spain; Wageningen Universiteit, Netherlands; Caussade Semences, France, Cotswold Seeds Limited, National Academy of Sciences, Armenia.