Feeding Comfrey to Chickens
One of the problems of feeding hens is that whilst we’ve managed to well nigh double their egg-laying capacity by selective breeding over the last hundred years we’ve not increased their crop capacity.
The hen’s crop capacity gives a fixed limit on the volume of food that a hen can eat. So, to provide the required nutrients to produce in excess of 300 eggs a year, the hen’s diet must be carefully managed to maximise the value of the food they eat.
This doesn’t really create a problem for industrial farming where it is more efficient to buy in prepared feed scientifically formulated to feed in measured amounts per bird. A similar situation applies to meat birds with their accelerated growth rates.
It’s obvious that from an ecological point of view, feeding hens with food grown in adjoining fields and on waste materials like cabbage outer leaves is far better.
The difficulty in squaring this circle is increasing the protein content in a green food and decreasing the fibre content which basically clogs the system as the hen cannot make use of cellulose.
High Protein – Low Fibre Comfrey
This is where comfrey offers a solution to the home and small scale producer. Ideally chicken feed should contain between 5% and 8% maximum indigestible fibre. Even oats at 10% fibre should form a limited portion of the diet.
Comfrey being low in fibre but high in protein is the ideal green to feed chickens. The allantoin is potentially health promoting and the high levels of Vitamins A & B12 results in both a rich yellow yolk to the eggs and a yellow tinge to the flesh as with the expensive corn-fed hens.
Hens may well not take to comfrey at first, they are more likely to accept comfrey if it is offered wilted and is the only green available. It is a little stringy and care should be taken offering it to chicks under 8 weeks.
Another method is to shred the comfrey or chop it using either a small scale chaff cutter (almost as rare as hens teeth in Britain now) or a garden shredder and offer it as part of a mash.
Once going, a virtuous circle is established, the comfrey feeding the hens and the the hens, via their droppings, feeding the comfrey. Hopefully reducing both the monetary and ecological cost of feeding hens without degrading egg performance.
Feeding Comfrey to Geese
Geese are better equipped to handle comfrey as they already eat grass and herbs. Allowing the flock access to a portion of the comfrey bed, perhaps controlled with electric fencing, can improve weight gain and health without additional cost.
Feeding Comfrey to Pigs
Comfrey can make a significant contribution to the diet of pigs who generally love it. Allowing pigs direct access to the comfrey bed is not a good idea due to their habit of rooting.
Feeding Comfrey to Horses
At one time many racehorse trainers would incorporate comfrey into their food and use it in a medicinal manner for bruises and sprains as well as pulmonary infections etc.
Since the discovery that their may be some risk due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are also present in ragwort, of liver damage best practice is to limit the amount of comfrey fed to horses to just a handful a day of fresh leaves or 20 to 30 grams per day of dried leaf.
Old Gypsy practice was to feed a root to horses as a tonic but since that is where the alkaloid concentrates, probably not a good idea.
Further Information on Comfrey
- Growing & Using Comfrey for Gardeners
- Location & Preparing the Comfrey Bed
- How to Propagate Comfrey – Propagating Bocking 14 Comfrey
- Planting, Cultivation, Harvesting & Problems of Comfrey
- Comfrey – Medicinal Uses of Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
- Using Comfrey: Making Comfrey Compost, Comfrey Liquid Feed or Tea
- Feeding Comfrey to Poultry and Other Livestock