Local cultivars of comfrey (Symphytum spp.) have been used to cover protein and mineral requirements of farm animals in low-input systems. Due to its known health-promoting (e.g. allantoin), but also anti-nutritive ingredients (e.g. pyrrolizidine alkaloids), multidisciplinary approaches are essential in order to quantify the nutritional value and the potential of its use in poultry and farm animals in terms of meeting animal needs, using local resources as well as remediating over-fertilized soils. Focusing on animal effects, here one-day old sexed Cobb500 broiler chickens were subjected to either a standard control diet or a standard diet supplemented with 4% dried comfrey leaves for 32 days. Performance traits indicate good acceptance of supplementation with comfrey leaves. Parameters for liver function, mineral homeostasis, bone mineral density as well as intestinal microanatomy revealed no signs of impairment. Quantified pyrrolizidine alkaloids were below the detection limit in liver and breast muscle (<5 μg/kg tissue). Comfrey supplemented male broiler chickens showed higher ash content in breast muscle and revealed altered gene expression profiles for metabolic pathways in blood cells. In healthy broiler chickens, the transcriptome analyses revealed no aberrations in the immune-related pathways due to comfrey supplementation. The results imply that the use of comfrey leaves in a high-performance broiler line seems feasible and offers the potential for closed nutrient cycles in site-adapted local agricultural systems. Further analyses need to focus on possible growth-promoting and health-improving components of comfrey and the safe use of chicken products for human consumption.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.

References

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