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Alfalfa-sainfoin Option will Offer Bloat-Free Grazing

Bloat-free grazing in a mixed stand with alfalfa and a new perennial forage variety of sainfoin is being introduced as an option in 2015 in western Canada. Breeders seed for testing will be available to interested American researchers, says Surya Acharya of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge, Alberta. 

Development of the Mountainview sainfoin began in 1999. The last five years included field testing to gauge the crop’s ability to prevent bloat and to survive in mixed stands. The pairing is showing outstanding results in Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

“We have to do some testing in the U.S. to make sure it holds true there,” Acharya says. “I hope to have bulk breeder seed in 2015 for researchers who want to cooperate. It will be distributed through Northstar Seed Ltd., Neepawa, Manitoba.”

Selections from American sainfoins, Remont and Eski, make up about 24% of the genetics in the new variety. Several other sources have been used in developing Mountainview.

The best practice to date has alternate rows of alfalfa and sainfoin. The seedbed and fertility program should be prepared ahead of planting. Acharya suggests putting the two seeds in separate seed boxes and plugging alternate holes in the seeder for a one-pass planting with alternate row seeding.

“This would be a slightly different method, but if you are looking for a high-performance grazing system, then you have to do a bit of extra work,” he says.

Until now, sainfoin has not been able to survive in pastures with alfalfa. In mixed stands, it was quickly choked out by the aggressive companion. The sainfoin population would drop below the minimum threshold (about 20%) for preventing bloat.  

“I only selected for plants that would survive with alfalfa and grow back after cutting. Yet, these populations are actually better yielding than alfalfa alone (per unit area),” he says. “We have a 5-year-old stand now and have grazed it for four years. The sainfoin is still there, at 25% to 30%, and it is preventing bloat completely.”

One of a kind

Mountainview sainfoin is one of a kind and represents an exciting new opportunity for cattle producers. Sainfoin is a high-quality forage legume crop that features a condensed tannin concentration. This is very effective at preventing deadly pasture bloat in ruminants. However, until now, sainfoin cultivars have not survived well in alfalfa pasture or grown back after the first cut.

When grown under the irrigated and rain-fed conditions of western Canada, it outyielded Nova, the check variety, by 22% to 42% in pure stands and 30% to 39% in mixed stands with alfalfa. It also showed strong regrowth. Mountainview reaches flowering 10 days earlier than Nova and has heavier seed weight, at 20 to 24 grams (with pod) per 1,000 seeds compared with 18 to 22 grams for Nova.

“Mountainview’s rapid regrowth after cutting is very different from Nova and is one of its greatest benefits,” says Acharya. “I think cattle producers will find a lot to like in this new cultivar.”

Mountainview also rates very well with cattle.

“It is as palatable or even better sometimes than alfalfa, because it has a hollow stem. The animals can eat the whole plant,” he says. 

Cattle seem to select sainfoin over alfalfa in initial grazing. Mountainview has a sweeter flower than alfalfa; blossoms are more attractive than alfalfa for bees.

Earlier research estimated a stand with about 15% sainfoin would be enough for bloat prevention, although a higher percentage might bring peace of mind in patchy forage stands.

To learn more, contact Surya Acharya at 403-317-2277

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