Press Releases

Farm animals and flatulence: University of Reading scientists have a solution – University of Reading

Release Date : 10 July 2007

The University of Reading is to investigate how feeding an ancient food to livestock could be of huge benefit to the environment.

Ruminants, especially dairy cows, are major contributors to environmental pollution, but by eating sainfoin, an almost forgotten traditional fodder legume, the animals' polluting emissions could be cut significantly.

Now the University of Reading's agriculture department, in collaboration with other EU and Armenian colleagues, is part of a new Marie Curie research training network called 'HealthyHay', to investigate the benefits of feeding sainfoin to livestock.

Dr Irene Mueller-Harvey, who is leading the project at Reading, said: "Ruminants utilise sainfoin protein very efficiently. They also make better use of the energy in sainfoin compared to grass of equal metabolisable energy content.

"This is important because more efficient nutrient utilisation of protein and energy leads to less environmental pollution in terms of nitrogen and methane emissions.

"HealthyHay takes a holistic approach to a unique sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) germplasm collection, and will develop a scientific and technical basis for animal feeding systems based on lower chemical inputs by re-popularising a traditional fodder legume for more efficient, animal- and environment-friendly farming systems.

"At present, research on sainfoin focuses only on a few cultivars in a few EU countries. This prevents exploitation of the full genetic potential of sainfoin. The unique collection available within this network and a concerted effort to evaluate this germplasm collection will lay the foundation for exploiting the full potential of this traditional forage crop in contemporary cultivation systems."

Sainfoin was widely grown in Europe before the use of commercial fertilisers and synthetic veterinary drugs, and has a very high voluntary intake by cattle, sheep and horses. It is thought that the unique nutritional, environmental and veterinary properties of sainfoin are governed by the presence of tannins, which are natural products that occur only in a few fodder legumes.

The English term sainfoin is derived from the French 'sain foin', which means 'healthy hay'. Research also suggests that the sainfoin tannins achieve good anti-parasitic effects. This could explain why it is such a good fodder for young livestock such as lambs and calves.

As sainfoin contains nutrients, that are used more efficiently, and natural compounds such as tannins, that act against parasites, it is a fodder legume that is ideal for sustainable livestock farming systems.


For more information contact Lucy Ferguson, media relations manager, University of Reading on 0118 378 7388.

More information about this project:

The University of Reading will be working with National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge who will be establishing the sainfoin germplasm collection and Cotswold Seeds Ltd, who are providing their seeds and also hay samples for the project. The partners, in full, are:

1) Dr Irene Mueller-Harvey, Department of Agriculture, University of Reading (plus colleagues: Professor Rainer Cramer, Biocentre; Drs Rebecca Green, Richard Frazier and Wayne Hayes, School of Chemistry, Food Biosciences and Pharmacy).


Characterisation of tannins from the sainfoin germplasm and how tannins interact with proteins.

Nutritional analysis of sainfoin germplasm.

2) Mr Steven Bentley and Dr Lydia Smith, NIAB, Cambridge, UK


Agronomic evaluations of sainfoin germplasm

Pre-breeding trials

3) Mr Ian Wilkinson, Cotswold Seeds Ltd, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire


Provision of seeds and plant material for feeding trials.

HealthyHay brings together 13 teams from 10 different countries: Armenia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, France, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom. It aims to train researchers with less than four years of research experience. More experienced researchers, with four-10 years of experience or a Ph.D. will also be involved for the purpose of transferring knowledge between partners and countries. HealthyHay will employ 14 ESRs and six ERs. One of the main objectives of RTNs is to provide training in another EU country that is different to the researcher's usual country of residence. The aim is to increase the mobility of EU researchers to support their future careers in industry and academia.

The Marie Curie Research Networks:

These Networks provide the means for research teams of recognised international stature to link up, in the context of a well-defined collaborative research project, in order to formulate and implement a structured training programme for researchers in a particular field of research. Networks will provide a cohesive, but flexible framework for the training and professional development of researchers, especially in the early stages of their research career. Networks also aim to achieve a critical mass of qualified researchers, especially in areas that are highly-specialised and/or fragmented; and to contribute to overcoming institutional and disciplinary boundaries, notably through the promotion of multidisciplinary research. They will also provide a straightforward and effective means to involve the less-favoured regions of the EU and Associated Candidate Countries in internationally recognised European research co-operation.

More information can be found by clicking here.


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