What is Sainfoin?
Sainfoin, otherwise known as “holy hay”, is a plant long recognized for its extraordinary palatability and health benefits. This forage was primarily grown for horses prior to the industrialization of agriculture, but was all but abandoned with the invention of tractors and the promise of fertilizers and weed control chemicals that would make large scale farming possible. Sainfoin is now experiencing a rebirth as scientists all over the world recognize its unique ability to resist drought, draw nutrients from deep in the earth to nourish grazing animals, fix nitrogen, sequester phosphates, and support pollinators; all necessary if we are to make headway in our quest to address climate change.
Small quarters of land in the western United States are a riotous blur of pink when the sainfoin crop comes into bloom in June. In the stillness of a hot Montana afternoon you can hear the steady drone of bees and see the pervasive movement of butterflies flitting from plant to plant. Tourists will stop to get permission to take photos in the vibrant, pink landscape, which is said to rival the tulip fields of Amsterdam for their breathtaking beauty. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats and wildlife all exhibit a strong preference for sainfoin over other forages and will walk through a blooming field of alfalfa to feast on the blooms, stems and leaves of this extraordinary plant.
Top benefits of Sainfoin in horses:
- The higher tannin level disrupts mechanisms that create gas during digestion so sainfoin is non-gas producing. Limiting gas production along the gastrointestinal tract is not simply a matter of comfort for the horse, but may reduce incidence of gas colic.
- Longer chewing time. We have recorded the chewing time of horses who eat an alfalfa pellet vs those who eat the sainfoin pellet. The horses observed spent an average of 30% more time chewing the sainfoin, salivated significantly more and drank up to twice the amount of water when they were eating sainfoin. Chewing for production of saliva and digestive enzymes and increased water consumption are all important for optimal gastrointestinal health in horses.
- The higher condensed tannins in sainfoin bind to the proteins to protect them during the digestive process. This results in increased utilization of the protein throughout the body. In cattle, this results in faster growth and better hides. In horses this results in better topline, more effective maintenance of topline/muscling when the horse is in hard work, and improved hoof horn.
- Sainfoin is high in Omega-3 fatty acids for natural anti-inflammatory support.
- Low sugar
- Low starch
- More palatable than alfalfa. If you have a horse who is off their feed or refuses to eat a supplement, incorporating sainfoin often gets them going.
- Sainfoin has anthelmintic properties and has been shown to help control strongyles in cattle, sheep and goats. It has been assumed that it will work the same in horses but this theory has not been tested so we are uncomfortable making this claim until we have had an opportunity to test Sainfoin's efficacy on a herd of heavy shedding horses in a controlled environment.