Shoshone Sainfoin

  • Scientific name: Onobrychis viciifolia
  • Drought tolerant, winter hardy forb
  • Relished by wildlife, especially deer and elk
  • Deep-rooted and drought-resistant
  • Can be cut for hay, exceeds alfalfa yields on first cutting
  • Very palatable, grazed by livestock
  • Minimum order quantity of 10 lbs.


Quantity is per pound. Example: 1 = 1 lb, 2 = 2 lbs, 3 = 3lbs, etc. This is pure seed, not a live plant.

SKU Graph Category

Map of Shoshone Sainfoin Distribution Area
Shoshone Sainfoin Distribution Area

Min. to Max. Annual Precipitation


Average Max. Height

A deep rooted legume similar to alfalfa, but usually cut only once annually. The hay is very desirable. Can be grazed or pastured. Sainfoin is relished by wildlife, especially deer and elk. Prefers well drained soils. A prolific flower producer that is excellent for nectar and honey production and pollinators generally. Good drought tolerance and winter hardiness.

Shoshone Sainfoin is a deep-rooted legume that is excellent as a single-crop alternative to alfalfa. It is and very drought-resistant provided the annual rainfall is 12 inches or over. It yields best on deep, well-drained soils. Sainfoin grows taller than alfalfa, the stem is hollow and there are many leaflets (like vetch). It has showy pink flowers that both beautify and provide abundant nectar for pollinators and honey bees. The “seed” is, in fact, a pod which contains a single seed. Even without the pod, the true seed is large (for a legume); there are only 28,000 seeds per pound.S

Sainfoin has good drought resistance and grows well on a variety of soils, it does especially well on high lime, well-drained soils of high fertility. It does NOT do well on excessively wet soils or high water tables. It has a low tolerance to flooding and waterlogging. It is intolerant of acidity and salinity. Tests show that it will not tolerate saline soils and that it is not as winterhardy as the locally-recommended cultivars of alfalfa.Shoshone Sainfoin

Sainfoin begins growth in the spring about the same time as alfalfa, but flowers one to two weeks earlier. First cutting hay yields have exceeded those of alfalfa, but alfalfa yields are greater in subsequent cuttings. In areas where hay production is limited to one dryland cutting, or because of a shortage of irrigation water, Sainfoin may replace alfalfa.

Onobrychis viciifolia (Sainfoin) is very palatable and is grazed by livestock in preference to alfalfa. It is relished by deer. Although very coarse, the herbage is highly nutritious. Compared with alfalfa, forage dry-matter yields of sainfoin are about 20 percent lower under dryland conditions, and may be 30 percent or more lower in irrigated areas. Onobrychis species are not known to cause bloat nor is it attacked by alfalfa weevil. It is highly palatable to both sheep and cattle, being preferred over alfalfa. It may be grazed or used for hay, either alone or in mixtures with grasses. It grows well with Russian wildrye and crested wheatgrass. Under irrigation, sainfoin is shorter-lived than alfalfa, but rotational grazing has been shown to prolong its life.oshone Sainfoinhoshone Sainfoin

Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) is well suited to hay harvesting as it grows upright and is easily cut. It is somewhat higher in moisture content than alfalfa. Since regrowth is very poor, it is best suited to taking one clipping at about the half- to full-bloom stage. Unlike alfalfa, it does not drop its lower leaves; stems remain succulent as the plant matures so that quality does not decrease so rapidly. Yield is often better than that of alfalfa for one clipping, but only 80 to 90 percent as high when two cuttings per season are compared. It competes poorly in mixtures with aggressive grasses and, although total yield is usually not affected, the proportion of sainfoin decreases.

The advantages of sainfoin for pasture use include excellent quality and palatability that give superior animal performance without the danger of bloat. Compared with orchardgrass in irrigated areas, it yields about one-third less, regrows more slowly after grazing and has a shorter productive life. However, grazing in the bud or early bloom stage, and keeping the grazing height above about 8 inches, will lengthen productive life from two to three to about six years in irrigated areas.

It’s adapted to dryland pastures as well, and grows satisfactorily in mixtures with bunchgrasses such as Russian wildrye or crested wheatgrass. However, total yields are slightly higher when sainfoin is grown alone. Sainfoin is a very early-growing legume, and it may tolerate light grazing during the bud stage and still yield a good crop of hay. Residual yield after hay cutting may be grazed, but once this species reaches full bloom, regrowth is very poor.

The Shoshone Sainfoin variety (Onobrychis viciifolia) was selected for its tolerance of northern root-knot nematode. It was developed by intercrossing the surviving plants remaining in an irrigated sainfoin variety trial infested with the Northern Root-knot nematode in southeastern Wyoming. It has good drought tolerance, winter hardiness, and is also resistant to alfalfa stem nematode. Shoshone is the preferred variety when sugar beets or other root crops are included in an irrigated crop rotation. It expressed a higher level of tolerance to the parasite than ‘Remont’ sainfoin by having greater shoot/root weight and lower plant mortality. Shoshone was jointly released in 2005 by the College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Stations at the University of Wyoming and Montana State University, and by the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service at Bridger, MT. It was named in honor of Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. Sh

See also Eski Sainfoin

EXCEED® Peat for Sainfoin, EXCEED® Superior Legume Inoculant

Exceed Superior Inoculant for Sainfoin

EXCEED® Superior Inoculant is a powder-based inoculant that can be conveniently added to your seed prior to planting. EXCEED® enhances germination, seed viability and survivability, resulting in faster establishment and healthier stands. It can be applied directly to the seed. It is a culture of highly effective strain of rhizobia (nitrogen-fixing bacteria) that will colonize the plant roots to gather and fix the “free” nitrogen of the air, making it available to the plants.

We recommend EXCEED® for enhancing the performance of your Sainfoin. One 8 oz. pouch treats up to 100 lbs. seed. It can be added to your cart here, or visit the EXCEED product page HERE.


(Onobrychis viciifolia)

Sainfoin NRCS Plant Guide

PDF version of NRCS Plant Guide.

Prepared By: Derek Tilley, Range Conservationist (Plants) USDA NRCS Plant Materials Center, Aberdeen, ID
Dan Ogle, Plant Materials Specialist USDA NRCS Idaho State Office, Boise, ID
Loren St. John, Manager USDA NRCS Plant Materials Center, Aberdeen, ID
Species Coordinator: Dan Ogle, Plant Materials Specialist USDA NRCS Idaho State Office, Boise, ID

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Plants have many different names, varieties, and scientific classifications. We've listed the most common below.

  • Shoshone Sainfoin
  • Onobrychis viciifolia

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13 to 18 Inches

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Up to 36 inches

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Inter-seed rate: at 5-15 lbs. per acre
Stand alone rate: 30-40 lbs. per acre

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