The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Farming with comfrey

Monsanto, PortugalWhen I farmed in the North of Scotland prior to moving to Portugal, I had Bocking Nos. 4 and 14, together with a large number of plants of unknown species or varieties that I had collected from various people.  I operated a commercial free-range egg enterprise on this
farm, using mobile night shelters holding either 80 or 120 hens, with a total capacity of close to 2000 birds, and the hens had free access to the comfrey beds.  They ignored all the plants.

This is not unusual, and if you want to offer comfrey to poultry you might have to cut and wilt it first, possibly even chaffing it.  I understand this particularly applies to No.14.  Poultry apparently find the higher potassium content of this cultivar distasteful when it is growing or offered freshly cut, although some poultry keepers find their hens will eat it fresh.

I was not interested in feeding it to hens.  I bred meat rabbits until the increasing egg enterprise meant I had to cut back on the workload I had, but almost all the rabbits had taken readily to most comfrey leaves they were offered.  Some did not.

I brought a couple of crown-sets of No.4 with me to Portugal because my aim was to feed it to livestock during the normal summer drought, the 14 with its higher potash being preferred for plant food --- in compost, as a mulch, directly in the ground underneath potatoes, and as a liquid fertiliser. 

Goats in PortugalI keep a small goat herd of up to 20 does, and they have never been fond of comfrey, usually pulling the leaves out of the feeders to taste and then discarding them. I tried several times each summer with only a few does and kids being interested.  Consequently I used most of the crop each year as compost or mulch.

This year has been particularly dry and therefore no fresh grazing, as I was unable to irrigate, and very little browse.  As a last effort, and as a complement to the green corn and cobs I was feeding (corn being low in calcium and high in phosphorus, whilst comfrey is the reverse, and also much higher in protein), I decided to give them one last try.  Most of the goats took to the comfrey by about the end of July, and all of them eventually.  My limited supply had to be fed very sparingly until I decided I had to stop cutting in mid October to give the plants a chance to build up reserves before winter.

Alan McDonald has been experimenting with comfrey on farms around the world for fifteen years.  His new book, How Not to Make Millions --- But Still Enjoy a Rich Rural Life is available for 99 cents on Smashwords, and you can also read about his adventures for free on his blog.  For background information on comfrey, check out yesterday's post "Types of comfrey."

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Interesting topic. I just started growing Bocking 14 this year. It's doing great so far. I plan to mostly use it for compost/green mulch, but I might try it out on the goats (not mine, they live next door).

It's also nice to hear from another author. I'm eager to check out Alan's book.

Comment by Sara Wed Nov 21 08:32:45 2012

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