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Bocking 4 comfrey for chickens (and a giveaway)

Autumn comfrey

I wrote over on my homesteading blog about the power of comfrey last week.  What I didn't mention there is that I splurged and bought two Bocking 4 comfrey plants last fall.  Bocking 4 is reputed to be the best comfrey variety for livestock due to its higher protein Russian comfrey flowerslevels and better flavor, and we want our chickens to have the best.

Even though the Bocking 4 plants will be in our pastures eventually, my new method is to put purchased pasture plants on the outside of a fenceline at first.  That way, the plants can get established without being pecked and scratched to pieces, some parts of the plants will dip into the pasture, and, after year 1, I can split these plants apart to create lots more that will actually go into the pasture.

Comfrey along a fenceline

So now it's time for that split!  As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, two little roots grew into two huge plants that filled up a four-foot-by-two-foot zone along the fenceline.  I'm hoping I can get at least a dozen babies from these plants and will plant them along the inner fencelines of our tree alleys in our new pasture.  The photo above shows how I already planted out some of my unnamed comfrey variety into that setting.  The plants look droopy now, but as I learned last year with my terrace experiment, the comfrey will be bushy and thriving come spring with no care on my part.

Do you want to join my in my comfrey-for-chickens experiment?  I'm going to set aside two starts for one lucky reader.  Just leave a comment below by midnight on Thursday, November 28 (Thanksgiving).  I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner and will announce here on the blog next week.  So be sure to check back to find out if you won!



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I would love to try something similar for my girls by planting some comfrey just out of their reach until it grows over the fence!!
Comment by Maggie mid-morning Monday, November 25th, 2013
I will try it it I I win.
Comment by Bill hawk late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
First off, starting with when I got my first chicks 3 years ago, I have never used any other watering method than your nipples! When they were little I screwed them into milk jugs. For the older birds I put them in 5 gallon buckets. I LOVE your new design which allows you to put the buckets on a pedestal and a heating base!!! I have been looking into adding comfrey to the garden for my chickens and haven't been able to find a source so I would LOVE to have a start!! Happy Thanksgiving!!
Comment by Linda late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
I read in another of your posts about do's and don'ts of comfrey that you shouldn't take it internally because it might contain a carcinogen...so is there any research of it being carcinogenic for chickens? Thanks!
Comment by Carol late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
It would be awesome to be able to try this. Never heard of it. We're getting ready to split our pasture for paddock type rotation. Thanks for considering us. Thanks and 'tis the season to give thanks. Have a GREAT Day!
Comment by Tony late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
Boy, Anna, do I need this! My 4 hens have only their fenced yard and coop, and they have eaten every last bit of any greenery that was in their yard. We are way out in the East Texas country and have too many predators to allow the hens to free range or even be out in the yard for a little while (owls, hawks, coyotes, bobtails, etc.) I could plant these comfreys all along the one side of their yard on the outside of the fence just like you did! It would be a blessing for sure! Thanks for your great products by the way. Our girls love having fresh water to drink all the time.
Comment by Kate Turner late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
I would like to be in the running for the bocking starts. Thank you. John Swift.
Comment by John Swift late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013

I love reading about your comfrey experiments and have wanted to try it in my garden. I'd love to enter my name in the contest. Thanks, Joe R.

Comment by Joe Rappa late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
Looks great! I would love to try it. Thanks for the giveaway.
Comment by Diane C late Monday morning, November 25th, 2013
I go to the farmers market every week and get the green scrapes that are pulled off the lettuce etc. I would love to grow something my chickens could benefit from.
Comment by mary Paulsen at noon on Monday, November 25th, 2013
I hadn't raised chickens since I was 10 and had forgotten a lot about them. Well,man are they destructive. Our beautiful bed of hostas looked like a mangled mess within 1 week. The wildflower bed my wife worked so hard to keep nice became a dirt bath wallow in just 2 days. Rhubarb patch is nothing more than a faint memory now. So much for the landscaping. We wanted the chickens to be free range, but they lost that privilege when they started to destroy the lawn next to the chicken house. We fenced in the area under the deck and gave them a 10x20 run in what used to be a grass patch. At 61 I am not ready for all these new challenges, but am facing them head-on anyway.
Comment by Terry at noon on Monday, November 25th, 2013

Count me in on this giveaway. Thanks

Comment by Anonymous at noon on Monday, November 25th, 2013

Love our chickens! always looking for new and creative ideas for feed, proper nutrition for our family and the birds,and money saving. Also,When we receive great ideas we always spread the news.

Comment by Jenn at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
I raise Partridge Chanticler chickens and am constantly looking for ways to supplement their diet with more natural food sources. We live in an extremely difficult area for farming, due in part to our weather. Summer temperatures often above 105 degrees F and winter temps below zero for days on end. I would love to try Bocking 4 Comfrey on the outside of my enclosures as you suggested. Great idea!
Comment by Dana C Tryde at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
We have been using all kinds of your ideas including the waterers...building the heated variety tonight:) as it was 12 last night and switching out water gets old. The comfrey plantings are a great idea and make perfect sense.
Comment by Deb Alianello at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013

One way or another, I will be trying out comfrey this year ;). I love this time of year, planning for spring gardens, which on paper and in my head are always perfect and pest free. And, on paper, my chickens never hop the fence to enjoy garden fare early.

Comment by nicole at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
I would love to get a patch of this started at my future homestead!
Comment by Rys at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
I am new to raising chickens this year. These starts would be a great addition to their non- GMO feed. Looking forward to more info and giveaways! Thanks!
Comment by Audra Daniel at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
Thanks for encouraging home grown chickens. They are inspiring.
Comment by Lauri Pratt at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013
I would love to have some comfrey in my pastures. I have been trying to start some, but your idea of starting it just outside the pasture fence until it is established is a great idea.
Comment by Clara at lunch time on Monday, November 25th, 2013

Thanks for entering, everybody!

Carol --- I wrote my thoughts on whether comfrey is carcinogenic in this post. I haven't seen any specific data for chickens, but I would suspect it could cause liver damage in large amounts. On the other hand, it seems unlikely you could grow enough to feed your chickens the large amounts required to cause problems. In the end, it's a judgment call.

Comment by anna Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013

Hello Anna, I am very satisfied with my Aqua Miser system and have used it for most of the year. In northern OH, where I live, the temps can range down to zero degrees at times during January and February, so I have not ordered the heated bucket kit, but I do think that it is a great idea for most of the country. I would love to have some cuttings of the Bocking 4 comfrey for my chickens. I have not had any animal refuse comfrey and I have missed the plot that I had some years ago.

Comment by Ann Hauser Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013

Your Avian Aqua Miser makes keeping hens so much more hassle-free! I've been recommending your website and products to all my chicken-keeping friends and neighbors!

Thanks for teaching me about comfrey and for improving your products. I'm really fond of the new EZ Miser design!

Comment by Ron Hyer Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013

I read everything you post and have bought nipples too. Most of my initial knowledge about chickens was learned from your teachings. I started with a few birds like most and now I order 50-75 at a time and I've a large incubator too. I've almost always over 100 fee-range chickens running around! Frankly the only time it seems like real work is when the predators find a way in and believe me, they're tenacious. After all, everything eats chicken (I've figured that out at least)! I want to Thank-You for your work (teachings). I have a few non-commercial (hobby) web sites and it's very time consuming to keep them updated. If you draw my name, chunk it and draw again. I doubt that stuff will grow well here in South Louisiana (mostly very hot and high humidity) and heavy clay soils. I've heard it grows in the African sun but that's Africa, not South Louisiana! Ha! Thanks Again.

Comment by John Thompson Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013

That is so nice of you to share of your abundance, and just in time for Thanksgiving - I am appreciative!

Comfrey is one of the great bone knitters. After trails were done in which rats ate 4000 times what they would normally eat of this plant, they started showing signs of liver abnormalities. Oh heck, if you eat or drink too much of anything it will cause an imbalance in your system. If you drink too much water you can disturb your electrolyte balance and show signs of a psychosis. I am not advising you to take comfrey internally. Educate yourself.

What no one mentioned is comfrey is one of the great healers of the soil and a mineral collector. Bioremediate your soil with comfrey. You can chop and drop it on your gardens, adding bioavailable minerals for your veggies, and hence, you.

How about if whoever wins agrees to pay it forward, the comfrey that is, and find two people to share some with next year, who agree to find two people each to share some with the next year, multiplying your generosity. Just a thought.

Happy Healthy Thanksgiving to all.

Peace and blessings,

Lee

Comment by Lee at teatime on Monday, November 25th, 2013

PS - Did you mean Bocking 14 comfrey - the Russian variety, because you posted the number 4? Is Bocking 4 something new?

PPS - If you use a chicken tractor you can move your chickens off a piece of land before they strip it bare, onto the next location if you want some vegetation to remain. Or, with the chicken tractor you can put them on a garden bed before you transplant or sow seeds directly and they will prepare the soil perfectly, removing any weeds and plants, loosening the soil and fertilizing.

Peace and blessings,

Lee

Comment by Lee Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013

Last post - promise.

Use the comfrey homeopathic if you have a broken bone and are concerned about toxicity. It is called Symphytum.

Comment by Lee Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013
When you say that you 'splurged on two plants' does that mean that they are expensive? Did you order them from a catalog? Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks!
Comment by Kim late Monday afternoon, November 25th, 2013
Chickens are so/so with comfrey right off the bush. Prickles. HOWEVER, cut it and let it sit overnight. It wilts a little and the leaves turn smooth. Chickens go nuts over it. It has almost 30% protein and thats more than soybean. I will be mixing this with my barley and oats because it will raise levels up to 18-20% protein daily. Most of this info comes from research because I'm a newbie but plan on getting started right. I live in Haughton, right outside of Shreveport, La. Being so warm I'm able to cut my comfrey 2" above ground around 8-10 times a year. I bought 10 one year old comfrey plants from coescomfrey.com. Pricey at $46 shipped but they did add another 7 smaller plugs for free. And I'll never have to buy them again. As pricey as they are, I may just try to sell plugs on Ebay next year. ha. Not really, I have a two acre pasture that I will be turning in a food forest and every fruit tree I plant I will plant a comfrey under it.
Comment by Linda Monday evening, November 25th, 2013
This Bocking 4 Comfrey sounds like a great solution for ranging hens to add more greens and protein to their diet! My girls love greens and I can bet they would tear into this with pleasure! I am an avid gardener and would love to continue on your experiment!
Comment by Julie Keith late Monday evening, November 25th, 2013

Lee --- There are several different types of comfrey that all start with "Bocking" followed by a number. Bocking 4 is the variety most recommended for livestock, but a reader is also sending me Bocking 14 to try this year (which I'll probably do a giveaway of next year). I'll keep you all posted about how the chickens respond to the different varieties.

Kim --- If you follow the link where I say I splurged, you can see a couple of sources for the comfrey variety. I think I ended up going for the 2-year plants from Coe's Comfrey, if I remember right, which came to about $20 after you add in shipping. Not all that expensive if you're starting a nursery bed, but pricey if you get many.

Comment by anna late Monday evening, November 25th, 2013
I have rabbits and I heard they love it too! Hope I win!
Comment by john stone late Monday evening, November 25th, 2013
We just ordered a second bunch of waterers. Our chickens love them and so do we!
Comment by Angie & Sheila morig Monday night, November 25th, 2013
I've never heard of this plant and I'd LOVE to try it with my flock!!!
Comment by Lori Edmison late Monday night, November 26th, 2013
I have some great comfrey recipes for ointments. I appreciate your ideas in your brief article for comfrey starts and where to place them. I never thought to use it for my chickens! We have very alkali soil and we experiment with plants every spring to find the best combinations for our location. I can't wait to experiment with comfrey!
Comment by Crowfox late Monday night, November 26th, 2013
I would like this for my chickens,to use to make great compost and if needed for poultices for injuries.
Comment by Olivia late Monday night, November 26th, 2013
Our ladies love anything green! Comfrey would be a great addition to their diet.
Comment by Anonymous mid-morning Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

We've moved to a wooded lot and plan to start raising chickens in the spring. We've done a lot of research, follow your blog, and are ready to take the plunge, but we have one big problem: we want to pasture the chickens, but we have no open space for them. We'd like to try "pasturing" them under the forest canopy, which is pretty open but has no real grass to speak of, sort of like this, with slightly more mature trees and a lot more brush and bramble: http://www.ouachitamaps.com/picture_library/OHT/OHT%20Pic%204387%20Open%20forest.jpg

Is this possible/advisable, and if so, do you have any advice in terms of growing shade-tolerant plants that the chickens would like to eat? Thanks!

Comment by Amanda mid-morning Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Amanda --- That's a good question. If you've got enough acreage, your chickens will love that kind of pasture as-is, but they'll need a lot more space to get a significant amount of their diet off pasture under solid tree cover. I've got a couple of pastures like that and they tend to get overgrazed quickly because the shade limits how much will grow within chicken-beak-range.

For smaller areas, as anti-environmental as it sounds, I recommend taking down the native forest and replacing it with fruiting trees and bushes, spread out so the mature canopy only covers 40% or so of the pasture. On a larger scale, you might try just taking down a few trees here and there to make openings, and planting into those openings.

To answer the question you actually asked --- comfrey will do okay in the shade, although it won't thrive. Currants and gooseberries are reputed to fruit in the shade, although I don't have any first-hand experience with that yet. I hope that helps!

Comment by anna late Tuesday morning, November 26th, 2013
That sounds great! I will be looking to add Comfry to our pasture for the Egg Cooperative we are starting for our community. Could you include some information on where to find Comfry Starts for non-winners interested??
Comment by Kathy late Tuesday evening, November 26th, 2013
I would love to get some comfrey growing on my property. I have heard it's a great dynamic accumulator as well as great food for the chickens. I would offer up splits next year if given the opportunity to get these starts.
Comment by David Davsion Tuesday night, November 26th, 2013
looking so forward to your articles and those of Mother Earth News!
Comment by STEVE BARR late Tuesday night, November 27th, 2013

Anna, I'd heard there are healing properties of comfrey for humans. Does the bocking 4 variety have any health benefits for people As well as being good for the chickens?

I have Bantams, does that make any difference?

Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving! Jenni

Comment by Jenni early Wednesday morning, November 27th, 2013
I love your idea of planting along the run. It's one of those 'DUH' moments, I guess. Comfrey sounds like something that would be wonderful for our hens!
Comment by Denise late Wednesday morning, November 27th, 2013
I'd love to get some comfrey starts.
Comment by Daniel at noon on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Jenni --- I don't have a definitive answer to your first question, unfortunately. I would assume Russian Comfrey would have many of the same healing properties as Common Comfrey since the common is one of the two parents of the hybrid. But I don't know for sure. However, to answer your second question, I'd say it almost certainly wouldn't be any different for bantams than for full-size chickens. People have used this type of comfrey for race horses, sheep, goats, and chickens, so it seems to have wide appeal.
Comment by anna Wednesday evening, November 27th, 2013

We are getting chickens in a couple months and I would love some Comfrey for them! :)

Thank you!

Comment by Deb Casey late Wednesday evening, November 27th, 2013
Our home came with comfrey but I don't know what kind. I made a comfrey root & plantain leaf salve for diaper rash etc. when my son was born. We call it Supergrease :)
Comment by Laurie Smith Thursday afternoon, November 28th, 2013
Would like to try the comfrey. Always ready to try something new.I'm a gardener and liked the comment about the chickens preparing the garden.
Comment by Carolyn late Thursday night, November 29th, 2013

Hello,

I wonder if I am checking back in the correct place. I am awaiting to see who won the great thanksgiving comfrey giveaway. I thought it would be on this blog page. Did I miss it?

Thank you.

Lee

Comment by Lee Tuesday afternoon, December 10th, 2013
Lee --- Hmm, maybe our winner is confused like you were and that's why I haven't heard back from her? You needed to stay tuned to our chicken blog to learn who won. The winner is Julie Keith, but she hasn't gotten back to me, so I chose a runnerup of Daniel.
Comment by anna mid-morning Wednesday, December 11th, 2013






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