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The two temperate forage legumes containing condensed tannins (CT) that promote ruminant production are birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.; BFT) and sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.; SF). Both are well-adapted to the cool-temperate climate and alkaline soils of the Mountain West USA. Condensed tannins comprise a diverse family of bioactive chemicals with multiple beneficial functions for ruminants, including suppression of internal parasites and enteric methane. Birdsfoot trefoil contains 10 to 40 g·CT·kg−1 dry matter (DM), while SF contains 30 to 80 g·CT·kg−1 DM. Our studies have focused on these two plant species and have demonstrated consistently elevated rates of gain for beef calves grazing both BFT and SF. Novel results from our BFT research include carcass dressing percentages and consumer sensory evaluations equivalent to feedlot-finished steers and significantly greater than grass-finished steers, but with omega-3 fatty acid concentrations equal to grass-finished beef. We have further demonstrated that ruminants fed BFT or SF will consume more endophyte-infected tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus (Schreb.) Dumort.) forage or seed than ruminants fed a non-CT forage legume. There is great potential value for sustainable livestock production in the use of highly digestible, nitrogen-fixing legumes containing tannins demonstrated to improve ruminant productivity.
MacAdam, J.W. and Villalba, J.J. 2015. Beneficial effects of temperate forage legumes that contain condensed tannins. Agriculture. 20:475-91. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture5030475