I read Russian Comfrey a while back and came up with this trying to think of better ways to store it.
Comfrey yields about twice what hay would from a given piece of land according to what I've read, and it's super high protein- TOO high protein really, because it rots if stored on its own. The author recommended storing it mixed with hay in small amounts but I just don't think that's practical.
So, here's my idea. What if someone mixed comfrey 50/50 with fall leaves, a free and practically infinite resource? Comfrey's like 30% protein, good hay's like 15%, fall leaves are negligible protein, almost pure carbon/cellulose. Nutritionally this should be similar to hay albeit much higher in minerals. Twice the yield from comfrey + fall leaves brought in from outside for free = 4x the "hay" off a piece of land.
So, what do you guys think? Would it work? Would it rot in storage? I'm thinking layering them in a barn is the way to go. Drying the comfrey out first of course so it doesn't just compost. Think cows/goats/sheep would eat it? Could it be used as feed almost exclusively during the months of the year there's snow on the ground and no grass in sight?
Just for context, I have no land or animals currently and this is all theory, but my goal is basically to farm as much land as I can as intensively as I can using only hand tools and no inputs, really just to show that there's another (better) way to do things. I'd be keeping cows or goats, probably goats, for milk and meat on the orchard part of my farm because, as I see it, grass grows there anyways so might as well. I'm hoping this idea is a good one so I can keep more animals on the same space and feed them in winter without growing hay, just a small comfrey patch.
... Are the dried leaves edible?
... Are the dried leaves palatable? While my own goats and sheep eat a certain amount of fresh assorted leaves, they won't touch them when dried.
... Would a comfrey/leaf mixture meet the animals energy and nutritional needs? Just because their stomachs are full doesn't mean that they aren't malnutritioned and starving.
... Would that diet have an affect on their birthing ability, milk production, and overall health?
... Would that diet affect the health and vitality of the calves, kids, or lambs they are carrying?
... Would that diet affect the flavor of the milk or meat?
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
posted 8 months ago
Everything I've read says that comfrey is great for milk production. And this might sound mean, but is palatability really an issue when it's the only thing they've got?
Presumably it would also dry when stored with hay and that's what the author recommended. So I'm not worried about that.
Malformed young I think is unlikely as the bocking 4 I'd use is supposed to be extremely low in the main toxin wild comfrey has, can't remember the name.
You make a good point about the malnutrition issue though. I don't know if there's something in grass that's lacking in comfrey and leaves.
That actually might work, sheep and goats will eat leaves and I believe there is a woman on here from Vermont that has experimented with feeding deciduous leaves to her goats with success. Adding free choice salt and mineral mix (loose, not block form) would be a great idea I think, but probable that it would work.
Another idea for long term storage would be to get away from the concept of hay altogether. I am a huge fan of silage...that is ensiling the wet green chop of grass, and then packing it in a silo or bunker because the cost is so cheap, and the method so fast. We used that all the time on the dairy farm.
My experiments with it on a small scale were good. My sheep nutritionist recommended 60% grass silage (comfrey in this case) and 40% corn silage to get the ideal mixture of protein to energy that my sheep needed.
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My chickens eat comfrey, but prefer other greens (chard, beets, cabbage . . .). I drop a big armful of comfrey into the chicken tractor in the morning before I go to work and they peck at it and eat it throughout the day
But they don't touch those dry leaves that you sometimes get at the base of a comfrey plant. So as far as chickens go, if you could dry it, I don't anticipate that they would like it very much. They like it a little bit wilted, but don't seem to care for it once it's dried.
You mention high protein levels in comfrey. It's also very high in nitrogen, which is why it's such a great compost activator, and would be difficult to dry. An alternative might be moringa. Unlike comfrey, it is commonly dried. Moringa is absolutely loaded with nutrition and is tremendously productive. Sainfoin is another amazing perennial fodder that is tremendously nutritious for animals. It dries like conventional alfalfa and holds its nutrition well. I've planted some and it's a beautiful plant while it's growing (red flowers) and animals prefer it over any other dried fodder. It takes a couple of years to really get going, but it's a great hay crop. It fixes nitrogen, is drought tolerant, and can be grazed or dried.