Can Chickens Eat Comfrey: Safe Feeding Guide

Can Chickens Eat Plants Like Comfrey
Comfrey Leaves And Flowers

Article Summary

  • Comfrey, also known as knitbone or boneset, is a herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe but also found in North America.
  • Some studies hint at a link between comfrey consumption and infertility in livestock.
  • Comfrey should be an occasional treat, not a staple, and avoid feeding comfrey to baby chickens (younger than 16-20 weeks) due to their increased sensitivity.

Comfrey is a flowering plant that has traditionally been used as an herbal remedy. Some chicken keepers have started offering comfrey to their flock as a supplement. But is it safe? Here’s what you need to know about feeding comfrey to chickens.

What is Comfrey?

Comfrey, also known as knitbone or boneset, is a herbaceous perennial plant. It has large, hairy leaves and small bell-shaped flowers that can be white, cream, yellow, or pink. Comfrey is native to Europe but grows widely across North America as well.

Comfrey contains a compound that helps promote new skin cell growth…

Traditionally, comfrey has been used medicinally to help heal broken bones and wounds. It contains allantoin, a compound that helps promote new skin cell growth. Comfrey also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Benefits of Feeding Comfrey to Chickens

Some chicken keepers feed comfrey believing it has several benefits:

  • Nutrition – Comfrey is high in protein, Vitamin A, calcium, and other nutrients chickens need. The leaves provide added nutrition.
  • Health – Comfrey may boost chickens’ overall health. The allantoin may help heal wounds or abrasions.
  • Egg production – Anecdotally, some find comfrey increases chickens’ egg production. However, no scientific research confirms this effect.
  • Foraging enrichment – Allowing chickens to forage on comfrey provides environmental enrichment.
Bearded Buff Laced Polish Hen
Bearded Buff Laced Polish Hen

However, the extent of these benefits is debated. More research is still needed on comfrey’s effects on chickens.

Potential Risks of Feeding Comfrey to Chickens

While comfrey does have some benefits, there are also risks to consider:

  • Toxicity – Comfrey contains toxins like pyrrolizidine alkaloids. In high doses, these can cause liver damage. The roots contain the highest concentration.
  • Overconsumption – Chickens may overindulge if allowed to free-feed on comfrey. This increases their risk of toxicity.
  • Reproductive issues – Some research links comfrey consumption to infertility in livestock. More studies are still needed.
  • Drug interactions – Comfrey may interact with certain medications or health supplements. It’s best avoided if chickens are being treated.
A Bachelor Flock Outside The Coop
A Bachelor Flock

Many experts thus recommend exercising caution and moderation if feeding comfrey. Only offer small amounts occasionally as a supplement. Avoid allowing chickens to binge eat leaves or roots, which could be more toxic.

What Types of Comfrey Can Chickens Eat?

Not all comfrey is created equal when it comes to toxicity risk:

  • Russian comfrey – Russian comfrey cultivars have higher levels of toxins. Avoid feeding these types.
  • Common comfrey – Lower toxin varieties like Common Comfrey or True Comfrey are safer options. But still feed in moderation.
  • Bocking 14 comfrey – Bocking 14 is a sterile comfrey cultivar specifically bred for fodder. This type is the lowest in toxins and the safest for chickens.

RECOMMENDATION

Stick to common or Bocking 14 comfrey if choosing to feed it. Avoid Russian comfrey and any wild-foraged plants where the cultivar is unknown.

Can Chickens Eat Comfrey Plants?

Chickens can eat all parts of the comfrey plant, including the leaves, stems, and roots. However, some parts are safer than others:

  • Leaves – Comfrey leaves are the safest part to feed to chickens. They contain lower levels of toxins provided the plant variety itself is low-toxin.
  • Stems – The stems contain marginally higher toxin levels than the leaves. But they are still relatively safe in moderation.
  • Roots – Comfrey roots have the highest concentration of toxins and are not recommended for chicken consumption. Avoid allowing chickens to dig up and eat the roots.

Above-ground parts of the comfrey plant, like the leaves and stems, can be fed sparingly. Always supervise foraging to prevent root consumption.

How Much Comfrey Can Chickens Eat?

There are no definitive recommendations for exactly how much comfrey chickens can safely consume. As a general rule of thumb:

  • Offer comfrey as an occasional treat or supplement, not a staple food.
  • Feed no more than 1-2 times per week at most.
  • Limit each chicken to a handful of leaves per feeding.
  • Reduce amounts or discontinue use if any signs of liver issues develop.
  • Err on the side of less comfrey until more formal dosing guidelines are available.

Start with small quantities and monitor your flock’s health closely when first offering comfrey. Increase slowly if no adverse effects are seen.

Can Baby Chickens Eat Comfrey?

Young Chicks Feeding
Young Chicks Feeding

Baby chicks should not be fed comfrey. Chicks younger than 16-20 weeks old are more sensitive to toxins and at higher risk of overdosing. Even moderate comfrey consumption could be harmful.

Wait until chickens are fully grown and mature before introducing comfrey. Follow even stricter dosing guidelines for younger birds.

In the end, comfrey does have some potential upsides for chickens. But the risks mean it can’t be recommended as a routine part of their diet at this time. Use extreme moderation and caution if feeding comfrey to your flock.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much comfrey can you feed chickens?

Comfrey can be fed to chickens in moderation. It’s recommended to introduce it slowly into their diet and observe their response. A general guideline is to offer small amounts initially, such as a few leaves per chicken, and gradually increase the quantity as they become accustomed to it. Always ensure that comfrey is a supplement to their balanced diet, not a primary feed source.

How do you feed comfrey to chickens?

To feed comfrey to chickens, start by harvesting fresh, young leaves from the comfrey plant. Wash them thoroughly to remove any dirt or contaminants. Chop or shred the leaves into smaller pieces to make them easier for the chickens to consume. Mix the comfrey leaves with their regular feed or scatter them in their feeding area. Ensure that the comfrey is fresh and free from pesticides or chemicals.

Is comfrey good for chickens?

Yes, comfrey can be beneficial for chickens when fed in moderation. It contains nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and protein, which can complement their diet. However, it’s essential to offer comfrey as a supplementary treat and not as a staple food. Overfeeding or providing large quantities may lead to health issues, so always monitor the amount and frequency of comfrey given to chickens.

Do chickens eat comfrey leaves?

Yes, chickens can eat comfrey leaves. Fresh, young comfrey leaves are palatable to chickens and can be a nutritious addition to their diet. When introducing comfrey leaves to chickens for the first time, it’s advisable to offer them in small amounts to ensure they accept and tolerate them well. Observing their reaction and adjusting the quantity accordingly will help maintain their health and well-being.

Can chickens eat comfrey seeds?

It is not recommended to feed chickens comfrey seeds. Comfrey seeds contain alkaloids, which can be toxic in large amounts and may cause health problems for chickens. It’s safer to stick to feeding chickens the leaves of the comfrey plant and avoid offering them seeds. Always prioritize the safety and health of chickens by providing them with appropriate and non-toxic food or plant options.