The aim of this study was to investigate whether the use of sainfoin-based condensed tannins (CT) enhances feed value when given with tannin-free legumes (lucerne) to sheep. The experiments were conducted with fresh sainfoin and lucerne harvested at two stages (vegetative stage as compared with early flowering) in the first growth cycle. Fresh sainfoin and lucerne forages were combined in ratios of 100 : 0, 75 : 25, 25 : 75 and 0 : 100 (denoted S100, S75, S25 and S0, respectively). Voluntary intake, organic matter digestibility (OMD) and nitrogen (N) retention were measured in sheep fed the different sainfoin and lucerne mixtures. Loss of dry matter (DM) and N from polyester bags suspended in the rumen, abomasum and small intestine (SI) was also measured using rumen-fistulated sheep and intestinally fistulated sheep. The CT content in sainfoin (S100) decreased with increasing percentage of lucerne in the mixture (mean value from 58 g/kg DM for S100 to 18 g/kg DM for S25) and with growth stage (S100: 64 to 52 g/kg DM). OMD did not differ between different sainfoin/lucerne mixture ratios. Sainfoin and lucerne had an associative effect (significant quadratic contrast) on voluntary intake, N intake, total-tract N digestibility, N in faeces and urine (g/g N intake) and N retained (g/g N intake). Compared with lucerne mixtures (S0 and S25), high-sainfoin-content mixtures (S100 and S75) increased the in situ estimates of forage N escaping from the rumen (from 0.162, 0.188 for S0 and S25 to 0.257, 0.287 for S75 and S100) but decreased forage N intestinal digestibility (from 0.496, 0.446 for S0 and S25 to 0.469, 0.335 for S75 and S100). The amount of forage N disappearing from the bags in the SI (per g forage N) was the highest for high-sainfoin mixtures (from 0.082, 0.108 for S100 and S75 to 0.056, 0.058 for S25 and S0, P < 0.001). Rumen juice total N (tN) and ammonia N (NH3-N) values were the lowest in the high-sainfoin diet (mean tN 0.166 mg/g in S100 as compared with 0.514 mg/g in S0; mean NH3-N 0.104 mg/g in S100 as compared with 0.333 mg/g in S0, P < 0.001).