Russian comfrey is emerging as the better fodder alternative as it provides livestock with three times protein content and produces double harvest per acre than Napier grass.
“Napier grass, which most farmers grow in large scale in Kenya (65 per cent), has a protein content of 8.3 per cent when dry per given mass. But dry comfrey has protein nutrient of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent,” said Thomas Momanyi, an agricultural extension officer based in Kisii.
However, according to Momanyi, more famers are yet to embrace the high yielding nutritious fodder that is fed to poultry, pigs, cattle, goats, and sheep, among others.
It is also food for humans. Central Kenya’s Kikuyu communities, who call Russian comfrey mabaki, use it as a vegetable binder during the cooking of mukimo delicacy.
One acre can produce up to 100 tonnes of freshly cut Russian comfrey per year, which is twice the yield of common napier grass varieties whose harvest ranges from 50 tonnes to 60 tonnes over the same period.
Comfrey livestock feed. Courtesy
A farmer feeding their livestock on this crop doesn’t require protein supplements, Momanyi said, adding that its nutritive value surpasses most legumes.
According to Nantaha Farm & Garden, a farming information site, the Russian comfrey’s protein content only competes with soy beans, which has 17 per cent protein content while other legumes lie between eight and nine per cent.
The site also gives corn and pasture grass fresh fodder harvest as 25 tonnes per acre per year.
Although it does not have high fibre content as Napier and other common grasses, it has a sufficient percentage that promotes digestion in chicken.
It can be crashed into a concoction for the chickens, ducks, and other poultry, or they be allowed to feed on it directly like other green materials.
“Some feeds like corn may cause bloating in livestock. Russian comfrey does not cause the accumulation of the gases in livestock’s stomach. This property makes it the best feed for non-ruminant animals like pigs,” said Momanyi.
The bushes mature when it reaches three or four feet in height. It is planted at a spacing of 45cm by 60cm.
“It does well in sufficient rainfall areas as well as drier regions. Its roots can be as long as six or seven feet. They fetch water and minerals from such deep levels,” he said.
It also makes nutrient rich composite manure and mulch because of the heavy green fleshy leaves.
Proteins boost animal yields in production like eggs, milk, and meat, among others.
Planting materials of this food feed crop, which is scientifically called Symphytum officinale, can be obtained from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization centers.