Sainfoin scores on high protein and digestibility
High protein value, non bloating properties and good drought tolerance could encourage a come back for little-known legume sanfoin. Jonathan Riley reports
FLEXIBLE feeding and drought resistance are the reasons for one Hampshire beef and sheep producers decision to grow sainfoin.
Nick Danielss 46ha (116-acre) Hyde Farm, Hyde, supports 200 ewes and 30 suckler cows, but the land is light sand on gravel in the Avon valley where the annual rainfall is only 610mm (24in).
"Seven years out of 10 the grass dies back and there is nothing to graze from June onwards. Even when it rains here, the moisture passes through the soil quickly, taking with it any nitrogen we have applied," says Mr Daniels.
So he chose to try sainfoin -which can root to 9m (25ft) and fixes nitrogen – and ploughed up an unproductive grass ley at the end of April last year.
Soil indices were checked and pH corrected to about 6 and the field disked and ring rolled before a sainfoin, timothy and meadow fescue mix was broadcast at 15kg/ha (13lb/acre) on May 1.
"This is far lower than the recommended rates because there is a shortage of sainfoin seed in the UK," says Mr Daniels.
"The field was then rolled using a flat roller – in hindsight we should have made more passes with the roller because areas on the headland rolled several times produced denser plant populations."
The crop emerged in 12 days with about 12-15 plants/sq m. About 50kg/ha (40 units/acre) of phosphate and 30kg/ha (24 units/acre) of potash were applied and the crop allowed to go to seed to increase plant population.
"The crop reached chest height by August and we cut it using a normal mower and wilted it for 24 hours to 25% dry matter to concentrate sugar.
"Sainfoin doesnt have the buffering quality of lucerne and red clover so there is no need for an additive. But the stalkiness of the plant makes it difficult to consolidate, and the grasses in the mix helped to produce a better silage. The result was a good crop of big bale silage from land which supported little more than a brown stubble on grass fields," he says.
As the sainfoin regrew sheep grazed it back until the first frost when the plant top dies off. This allows weed control and a wide range of herbicides can be used.
"This year we will make more silage and some hay which we will sell at up to £8 a bale," he adds.
Nick Daniels says sainfoin is deep rooting and so is drought resistant.
• Sow spring/early summer
• Seed rate 82kg/ha.
• Sowing depth 1-2cm
• Sow 70 to 150 plants/sq m
• Aim for 50-60 plants/sq m
• Yields 7t to 12t/ha DM a year.