Suitability of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) hay as a supplement to fresh grass in dairy cows. Asian-Aus. J. Anim. Sci. 22:1005-1015.

Scharenberg, A., M. Kreuzer, and F. Dohme. 2009. Suitability of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) hay as a supplement to fresh grass in dairy cows. Asian-Aus. J. Anim. Sci. 22:1005-1015.

Abstract: Two experiments were carried out to determine the utility of sainfoin hay, a temperate tanniferous forage legume, as a dietary supplement for grass-fed cows. The condensed tannins (CT) of sainfoin might counteract the typical metabolic ammonia load of cows in intensive grazing systems. Furthermore, the physical fibrousness of sainfoin might improve ruminal pH stability. In the preliminary experiment, the eating rate of non-lactating Holstein cows of two tanniferous hays, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil, was compared to that of a grass-clover hay after specific periods of time (n = 4). The eating rate of sainfoin was superior to that of the other forages. In the main experiment, designed as a replicated 33 Latin square, six ruminally cannulated lactating Red Holstein cows received grass, concentrate and either no supplementation, 3 kg/d of grass hay or 3 kg/d of sainfoin hay (n = 6). Measured intakes of the grass hay and the sainfoin hay were 2.0 and 1.5 kg DM, and two cows entirely refused to eat the sainfoin hay and had to be excluded from data analysis. Grass DMI was similar for cows supplemented with sainfoin hay and cows fed only grass whereas intake of concentrate was higher (p<0.01) for the latter treatment. Continuous measurements of ruminal pH showed that the minimum pH at night tended to be lower (p<0.10) with grass-only feeding compared to sainfoin supplementation, but pH did not decline below the threshold of subacute acidosis for a longer period of time. The slightly higher intake of nitrogen (N) for cows supplemented with sainfoin hay (413 g/d) compared to cows fed only grass (399 g/d) was accompanied by an increased (p<0.05) fecal N excretion and a tendency to an increased (p<0.10) urinary N excretion. Ruminal ammonia concentration as well as plasma and milk urea were not affected by sainfoin supplementation. In conclusion, the lack of positive effects typical for CT might be explained either by the limited CT content of this plants species (55 g/kg DM) or the relatively low proportion of sainfoin in the total diet or both. Moreover, due to the unexpected low grass quality the general ammonia load might have been too low for CT to have an impact.