In recent years, Swiss research has shown that the sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), in addition to its good nutritional value for ruminants and horses, displays further positive and health-relevant properties (see also supplementary literature, as well as research activity and results).
This includes in particular the sainfoin's effect on internal parasites of ruminants, but also on the reduction of methane emissions of ruminants.
Sainfoins, or rather the secondary constituents contained therein, also prevent "foamy fermentation" in ruminants.
The principal motivation of farmers to grow sainfoins is the anti-parasitic effect. Internal parasites are one of the crucial health problems of ruminants, especially of sheep, goats and deer. The parasites lead to losses in production and additionally cause high costs for medication (deworming medicines; see also the paragraph with quantitative data).
The situation has considerably worsened in the last few years with parasites becoming resistant to deworming medicines and the frequently rather insufficient effect of treatments.
For instance, in a study published in 2012, conducted by FiBL and co-financed by the Federal Office for Agriculture (BLW), it was noticed that among 20 examined goat farms between 50-95% of the intestinal parasites were resistant to the deworming product Eprinex (active substance: Eprinomectin). Eprinex is one of the most important deworming medicines for goats, as this particular medicine does not come with a prescribed withdrawal period for milk.
Thanks to various projects (Interreg IVa, Genetische Ressourcen BLW, condensed tannins as components of an integrated control concept against gastrointestinal nematodes in ruminants (Aramis No. 02.38), as well as Aramis No. 08.32.02.01 and 08.32.02.10)), knowledge has been gathered on aspects of growing sainfoin (suitable varieties, cultivation technique, conservation method, feeding strategy, etc.) in recent years. Simultaneously, FiBL has optimised laboratory analysis for the detection of relevant substances (condensed tannins).
Despite several open questions (such as the required feeding period with a small 30-40% substitution of feed ration with sainfoin, suitability of the new Swiss variety Perdix for deworming), the scientifically accompanied introduction into practice can be initiated in a further step.
Currently, greater spaces of sainfoin are being cultivated by many farmers (mainly sheep and goat farmers). This is happening without specialist support, and the farmers' efforts often end in frustration.
From the research community's perspective, but also from the perspective of public authorities funding research projects on this topic, the situation is rather unsatisfactory.
The present research-advisory project therefore shall help closing knowledge gaps taking interested circles into account. In particular, it should be ensured that the quality meets expectations, and that experiences during feeding are gathered, evaluated and published.