Feeding comfrey to livestock
traditional farm use for comfrey has
been as livestock food. Once dried, comfrey contains up to 26%
crude protein, along with an assortment of minerals sucked from the
subsoil by eight foot deep roots. In addition, comfrey contains
less fiber than grass does (10.9% of dry weight), which makes it a good
feed for non-ruminants like pigs and chickens that have a hard time
digesting fiber. Anecdotal evidence exists for feeding comfrey to
horses, cows, donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs, and at the
Hills wrote his book (the early 1950s), race horses were being fed
comfrey as a way of keeping the animals in top condition.
The question is --- how
much of these animals' traditional diets can be replaced by
comfrey? Little data existed at the time Hills' book was written,
but he suggested several hypotheses based on information about various
animals' known nutritional needs and a few on-the-ground trials.
One farmer noted that providing pigs unlimited comfrey allows you to
lower their storebought feed by 50%, and another farmer used the exact
same figures with his two horses. Comfrey can be used to replace
up to 10% of chickens' feed without lowering egg yield (though chickens
are the most sensitive to excess roughage of all the livestock
mentioned, so you might not want to go much higher than that.)
Lawrence suggests slowly increasing the proportion of comfrey included
in an animal's diet until signs of negative effects are noted.
When I first heard that
chickens eat comfrey, I got excited and tossed some in the
tractor...and my girls looked at me like I was crazy. Hills says
that most livestock will learn to like comfrey, but not in the fresh
form. The prickly hairs that make me use gloves when harvesting
can't be pleasant in an animal's mouth, but luckily the prickles are
merely a thin layer of silica stiffened with water. If you cut
the leaves and wilt them for a day or so, animals can eat the comfrey
with no ill effects --- I'll have to give that a shot! Other
farmers cut comfrey to make hay for the winter, or even turn goats and
sheep (who don't mind the prickles) onto a pasture of comfrey in the
spring and fall when grass pasture quality is at its worst.
If you're considering
comfrey as animal feed, you should cut your comfrey often so that it
never sends up flower stalks (like those shown in the second
image.) The percentages listed in this post are all for comfrey
in the leafy stage, while flower stalks have nearly double the fiber
and less than half the protein.
Have you tried feeding
comfrey to your animals? What did you think?
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