Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

InFocus: Sweet, Bitter, Salty, Sour, Savory

Published on 30 September 2016
Cows offered different tastes

Did you know? Cows have the ability to recognize these basic tastes:

New research from Penn State University found cows do like some flavors more than others.



Researchers presented 16 lactating Holstein cows with seven differently flavored concentrate premixes and a neutral mix as a control. The premixes were offered to the cows over six consecutive days in four plastic bins.

Researchers watching cows choices of feed

They observed and measured the cows’ intake and eating time to arrive at potential preferences for one flavored mix over another. The researchers’ findings were published in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

Researchers believe determining a cow’s preferred flavors could be helpful if used to stimulate feed intake in sick cows or to entice cows to be milked in a robot.

“The basic idea would be to have the flavored food only in the robot to attract the cow to the robot,” says Michael Harper, a PhD candidate and the lead author of the research. “It is important not to desensitize the animal to the flavor, similar to when we eat too much of one food like french fries and then we want something else like a salad. Therefore, the attractive flavor would not be offered in the TMR but only in the robot.”


Flavor preferences

Harper didn’t rule out that the same preferred flavors’ scents could also be sprayed into the air around the milking robot to possibly lure cows to be milked.

“Scent may be a more useful stimulus for feed intake because the volatile compounds responsible for smell are dispersed over a large area,” the researchers write in their paper. “In a robotic milking system, scent could be detected by the cow without the cow having to first enter the robot.”

Researchers are discussing the potential for further research into cows’ flavor preferences.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Cow choosing which feed tastes best.

PHOTO 2: Researchers watching to see what feed the cows pick.


PHOTO 3: Flavor preferences. Images courtesy of Michael Harper, Penn State University.