Kasson, Minn. – While researching her healthy horse feed, Mary Hartman found a key ingredient and new product in a nearly forgotten crop that hasn’t been widely grown in the United States since the 1890s.
“My introduction to sainfoin came from research on the equine microbiome. I read an article by a British researcher who mentioned sainfoin as an exceptional forage for horses that they love to eat. I had never heard of it talk,” Hartman said. “It’s a very old forage legume. It was once grown specifically for horses and sheep. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it. They tried to bring it here. It turned out that alfalfa was easier to grow in rich soils, so it was ignored.
Sainfoin is a perennial crop with purple flowers that is harvested and bunched like alfalfa. After discovering that a handful of growers started raising sainfoin in Montana in the 1970s, Hartman tracked them down and began buying sainfoin to use in his
“Montana growers are thrilled because there was no market for sainfoin. They just cultivated a few fields for themselves. Why would you grow a lot of something when there is no market? ” she says. “Now I have created a market for it.”
Thanks to Hartman, sainfoin is now being harvested in southeastern Minnesota for the first time in modern memory. Kory Weis, a farmer from the Pine Island area, has planted a patch of sainfoin for Hartman and they are experimenting with the best ways to grow and harvest it.
“We are the only commercial suppliers of sainfoin to the North American market. I will put 190 tons of sainfoin on the market this year. Some could go to South Korea, where they asked for 40 tonnes,” she said.
The sale of pure sainfoin pellets is a growing market for Hartman. However, it is also important for his growing business, as sainfoin is also the base ingredient in his five feed mixes for horses with specific health conditions.
After starting in 2017 making chia horse cookies in basements and garages across Rochester, Hartman’s healthy horse treat and food company has grown into a household name in the equine market. .
StableFeed has outgrown spaces in Rochester, so Hartman and its seven employees are now based in a 3,200 square foot facility in Kasson.
“Rent is higher in Rochester than in Kasson. This setup is perfect and there is more space for me to grow in,” she said, looking at the warehouse full of bags of her products waiting to be shipped.
Each of the five horse feeds includes sainfoin pellets “topped” with carrots, dandelions, spirulina, prickly pear, burdock, bee pollen, and other ingredients that the horses consumed while feeding. StableFeed also still sells the original five types of chia cookies that started the company. Most of its commercial direct sales through its website.
While his high-end specialty feeds aren’t cheap, Hartman points out that they’re cheaper than calling a vet to treat a horse with intestinal problems or other health issues.
When developing the flows, Hartman worked closely with
. AURI is a state-funded non-profit organization that drives economic development by helping entrepreneurs develop and launch new products.
Alan Doering, a senior scientist who manages AURI’s Co-Product Utilization Laboratory in Waseca, Minnesota, has worked on the development of many animal feeds. However, Hartman brought several new ingredients to the table, including sainfoin.
“Actually, I grow and we grow alfalfa. …I had no idea what sainfoin was. What is interesting with sainfoin is that it is a legume. It is high in protein like alfalfa. Unlike alfalfa, it does not swell. It is therefore safe for horses,” Doering said.
He sees a lot of promise in sainfoin as a crop in Minnesota.
“I think the big opportunity for sainfoin in Minnesota would be to plant it on marginal land. Whether it’s the bottom of a river or higher hilly terrain in sandy soils, it’s an ideal crop for producing protein,” Doering said.
Alfalfa production is down in Minnesota with low commodity prices and fewer dairies operating in the state. This could be a useful alternative to alfalfa for some farmers, he added.
As a perennial, sainfoin can help farmers concerned about erosion.
“It’s basically a living cover crop on your soil throughout the winter,” Doering said. “And yet, it’s not a cover crop, because you harvest it. It’s a living blanket. It will come back, year after year.
Weis, the farmer who grows sainfoin for Hartman in the Pine Island area, said it stands out from other local crops.
“When everything else is brown in the fall, after everything freezes over before we got snow, this stuff was as green as it gets until the snow covered it. And it starts earlier in the spring. It turned green as soon as the days began to warm up. We get some sun and it takes off,” Weis said.
He added that the purple flowers are also popular with bees. During peak pollination, visitors can hear the buzz before the sainfoin field appears, according to Weis.
Going forward, Hartman expects to grow and sell more sainfoin. She is optimistic that more stables and individual owners will start using her feeds and biscuits after seeing the difference the products make to a horse’s health and appearance.
She would like to build a new plant to process sainfoin into pellets in order to increase production and closely control pellet quality.
Of course, sainfoin will be a key part of StableFeed’s future growth.
“I really think this is a plant whose time has come. I think it’s a plant that could play a very big role in the agricultural sector, in the short and long term,” said Hartman.