Similar to alfalfa, but more upright, sainfoin has a hollow reddish-brown stem and compound leaves with 10-12 leaflets each. The most distinctive feature of sainfoin is the cone-shaped cluster of bright pink flowers which top each stem. Unlike alfalfa, sainfoin continues to grow (and doesn’t lose its bottom leaves) during flowering, so sainfoin is often harvested when the flowers are in half to full bloom. Sainfoin is often found in a hay or pasture seed mix.


Sainfoin is an excellent forage crop and is used for both hay and pasture. Often a sainfoin field will be cut once during the summer for hay and then used as pasture after the first frost. Cattle often prefer sainfoin to alfalfa, and farmers value the crop because it does not cause bloat, which is a common problem with other legumes like alfalfa. Like other hay crops, sainfoin is cut and raked into windrows to dry before being bundled into bales and stored. Alternatively, sainfoin can be used as silage.

Central Montana Sainfoin

Scientific Name

Onobrychis viciifolia

Growing Season

Can be planted in spring or fall. Usually harvested 10-14 days before alfalfa in the same area. Stands of sainfoin usually last about 6 years between plantings.


256,000 tons of non-alfalfa hay in Cascade, Chouteau, and Judith Basin Counties. 5.46 million tons of non-alfalfa hay in Montana.

Did You Know?

  • The word sainfoin comes from Old French and means good hay.
  • The scientific name Onobrychis is a combination of the Greek words for “donkey” and “to eat greedily” and refers to the crop’s use as a forage.
  • Sainfoin requires less water than alfalfa.