Sainfoin has several good characteristics, according to Bruce Anderson, professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska. It is good for grazing because it is bloat-free. It also tolerates low phosphorus and high pH soils, though it is intolerant of acidity or salinity. Compared to alfalfa, the forage quality of sainfoin declines less rapidly as the plant matures.
But in most areas well suited to alfalfa, sainfoin does not yield as well. It may out-yield alfalfa at first harvest, but its regrowth is slower. Nitrogen fertilizer often is needed to maintain productivity. Even then, sainfoin is susceptible to root and crown rot diseases. Anderson concludes that sainfoin is best for areas that usually get only one hay cutting a year, especially if soils are calcareous, and maybe also in some dryland grazing situations. For most other uses, Anderson says that alfalfa and other traditional forages will outperform sainfoin.