Have a Palatable Thanksgiving!

Christine Gelley, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Noble County, OSU Extension

This Thanksgiving turkey is certainly very palatable! Are you equally confident your livestock feeds are palatable?

I doubt anyone has ever wished you a “palatable Thanksgiving” before. It seems like a strange greeting, but it is genuine from me to you, and also to any animals that you are feeding at home or on the farm. I hope the interactions you have consist of sweet and savory words, rather than bitter or sour ones as you gather around the table for dinner. I hope the same for the food!

Why did I use the word “palatable”? Well, let me explain.

On two difference occurrences in November, I had the chance to talk with groups about how important palatability is for animal intake of feed rations.

The word “palatable” is an adjective. It describes the how preferable an experience is, most often, an eating experience. The scale of preference though is very difficult to quantify. Especially when we think about animal intake, because palatability is an opinion.

If you are still struggling to understand the concept of palatability, think about this example.

We are excited for Thanksgiving dinner- the turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, corn, pumpkin pie (you get the picture right?). All so tasty.

Well, it takes so long to cook and plate all that food and the football game we want to watch comes on in 15 minutes. Instead of missing the game to eat or spilling all our plates as we dash to the living room, let’s just save time by blending all that yummy and nutritious food together in a Thanksgiving smoothie! We can throw it all in, hit the puree button, pour it into a cup and go. It’s all the same food in the same quantities. It’s the perfect solution! Right?

Wrong. No one wants to drink a Thanksgiving smoothie.

Why? Because the food in it is no longer palatable.

My point is that palatability, although hard to measure is very important for animal intake. Humans may be able to rank palatability on a scale of one to ten, but livestock and pets are much less specific. If food is not palatable, they simply don’t eat very much and we are left wondering why.

As we head into winter we will likely be changing our feeding programs. Take time to consider how palatability may play into the feed ration equation. Textures, particle size, and taste do matter for animal intake and functionality. If the feed is not palatable, even if it is nutritious, animals will struggle to eat it and could fall behind the curve of what we consider desirable.

Specifically when it comes to poor quality hay this year, be on the lookout for harmful weeds, contaminants, ash, dead forage material, and mold. All reduce palatability and in turn, animal intake, weight gain, and reproductive success.