Chicory, a perennial herb known for its tough, twiglike stems and bright blue flowers, is a nutritious alternative food source for some types of livestock. Due to its high mineral content, chicory can be a nutritious addition to an animal's diet. Though it occurs naturally as a weed in all growth zones in the United States, it can also be cultivated and is fairly drought- and frost-resistant.
Benefits of Chicory
Wild chicory can be seen growing freely along roadsides in the United States. Originally from central Europe, chicory is a hardy and adaptable herb that thrives from spring to fall in a variety of climates. Sporting a strong taproot, this herb is high in both protein and minerals essential for large animal diets. It can withstand heavy grazing and is nutritionally superior to cool-season grass hays such as alfalfa, according to an Auburn University website. Livestock find the herb highly palatable.
Chicory and Cattle
The website Pastures Australia reports that chicory is valuable in promoting weight gain in livestock. Because the herb contains a good balance of crude protein, energy and minerals, it is easily and rapidly digested. Calves fed on chicory are reported to gain up to 2 pounds per day. Chicory contains the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc and sodium, which are necessary for animal health. Experts warn that dairy cattle should not consume chicory close to milking time, as the lactucin in the herb can taint milk production. Cattle have been known to choke on unearthed chicory roots, so harvesting requires care.
Chicory and Horses
Adult horses with moderate to low activity levels need little protein in their diets, but occasional chicory consumption can provide some of the essential minerals a horse requires. Experts at the website The Horse indicate that because of the herb's inulin content, horses should not consume large amounts of chicory. Although horses may be drawn to the herb for its taste or a lack of other forage during a dry spell, the sweet-tasting inulin in the plant can induce laminitis. Ensuring that a horse has adequate forage and access to mineral supplements may encourage him to make different choices when out to pasture. If you have doubts, rid your horse's pasture of chicory.
Successful chicory stands can produce the nutritious herb for five to seven years if properly maintained. Experts at Auburn University note that chicory is best sown in the spring, and left to grow between 80 and 100 days before grazing. Pastures with heavy hoof traffic are susceptible to plants with roots exposed to frost. Resting a pasture for a period of 20 to 30 days will ensure the recovery of the stand as well as the best performance of the chicory crop.
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images