The objective of this study was to characterize the condensed tannins (CTs) in wrapped silage bales of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) and examine their potential action on in vivo and in situ digestive characteristics in sheep. Silage was made from sainfoin, cut at two phenological stages. The first phenological stage, at which silage was made, was from the first vegetation cycle at the end of flowering and the second stage silage was made from regrowth, 5 weeks after the first cut, but before flowering. The silages made from the two phenological stages were fed to 12 rumen-fistulated sheep in a crossover design. Of the 12 sheep, six received polyethylene glycol (PEG) to bind with and remove the effects of CT, whereas the other six were dosed with water. Organic matter digestibility, total-tract N digestibility and N (N) balance were measured over 6 days. Kinetic studies were performed on total N, ammonia N (NH3-N) and volatile fatty acids (VFAs) in rumen fluid before and 1.5, 3 and 6 h after feeding. The kinetics of degradation of dry matter and N from Dacron bags suspended in the rumen were also determined. Biological activity of CT (protein-binding capacity) and CT concentration were greater for the silage made from sainfoin at the early flowering stage. Total-tract N digestibility was increased by the addition of PEG (P < 0.001) to the sainfoin silage before flowering (P < 0.001). CTs decreased N excretion in urine (P < 0.05) and increased faecal N excretion (P < 0.001), but had no effect on body N retention, which is beneficial for the animal. Ruminal N degradability was smaller in the presence of active CT (P < 0.001) at both phenological stages; however, soluble N (P = 0.2060) and NH3-N (P = 0.5225) concentrations in rumen fluid remained unchanged. The results of this experiment indicate that CT in the sainfoin retain their ability to affect the nutritive value of preserved forage legumes.