National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
3 - 5
Students will explain the importance of the beef cattle industry, including the products cattle produce, the production process from farm to plate, and how cattle can utilize and obtain energy from grass and other forage.
Activity 1: Snack Time
- Paper plate with grass and weeds
- Paper plate with pieces of beef jerky
- Chew It Twice activity sheet, one per student
- Two round magnets per student, one with pompom attached
Activity 2: Beef By-products
- Items from the Beef By-products List
Activity 3: Pasture to Plate
- Beef Cattle in the Story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey
- Field Trip! Series Beef-Part 1 video
- Round Robin Q&A Cards
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
bull: male cattle that are or will become fathers
by-product: something that is made in addition to or that is leftover from the production of the desired good; can still be very useful in different ways
calf: the offspring of a cow
cellulose: the main component of green plants like grass and shrubs; not digestible by humans but very nutritious to ruminant animals
cow: female cattle that have had a calf
digestion: the process by which food is changed to a simpler form after it is eaten
edible: suitable or safe to eat
heifer: female cattle that have never had a calf
inedible: not possible or safe to eat; not edible
rangeland: open land that domesticated animals use for grazing and roaming
ruminant: an animal that uses a series of stomach compartments and chew its cud in order to digest plant cellulose
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Tell your students that there are two primary products that cattle produce. Ask if they can tell you what they are. If they need a hint, tell them that both products fall in the category of "food." (Cattle produce milk and meat)
- Explain that there are different breeds or varieties of cattle just like dogs, cats, and other animal species. For example, some specific dog breeds have special skills and abilities. Labradors and Pointers are good hunting dogs, Border Collies and Heelers have instinctive animal herding skills, and Hounds are very skilled at tracking scents. Ask your students if they think different breeds of cattle have different traits or characteristics to make them unique in producing either milk or meat. (Yes)
- Explain that humans have been selectively breeding cattle for desirable traits since they were first domesticated around 10,000 years ago. Some traits that are commonly selected include hardiness, temperament, and even appearance. Most modern cattle breeds have been specialized to efficiently produce either milk or meat (not both). Based only on the pictures below, see if your students can guess which breed is typically raised for milk and which breed is typically raised for beef.
Activity 1: Snack time
- Explain to the students that you have a snack for them. Place a plate of grass and weeds and a plate of beef jerky on a table. Instruct the students to line up behind their choice.
- Discuss their choices. Did anyone choose the grass? Why or why not?
- Explain that people don’t usually eat grass because it contains cellulose that cannot be digested by humans.
- Ask the students to make a list of foods made with beef. Explain to the students that we have foods like steak, hamburgers, beef tacos, etc., because of grass. Discuss the fact that beef cattle graze pastures and rangelands. The cattle eat the grass and convert the plant cellulose into beef.
- Introduce the word ruminant to the students. A ruminant is an animal that has multiple compartments in its stomach. When eating, a ruminant chews their food to soften it, swallows it, and then regurgitates the food to its mouth and continues chewing. This is called chewing the cud or ruminating.
- Ask each student to follow the digestive process of cattle using the Chew it Twice activity sheet and their magnets. Use the pompom magnet to represent the cow’s food. The other magnet will magnetize the pompom magnet from underneath the paper and will be used to move the “food” through the cow’s digestive system.
Activity 2: Beef By-products
- Choose items from the Beef By-products List to put on a table. Tell the students that all of these items have something in common.
- Form groups of 4-5 students. Have each group create ten “yes or no” questions in an attempt to discover what all of the items have in common.
- Each group will take turns asking one question each until one group is able to correctly state that all of the items are made from parts of cattle. Explain that meat and milk are the principal products that come from cattle. The items on the table are secondary products, also known as by-products.
- Sort each item by which part of the cow it comes from and/or whether it is edible or inedible.
Activity 3: Pasture to Plate
- To help students understand how beef gets from the pasture to the plate, watch the video clip from the Field Trip! Series, Beef-Part 1 and read the book Beef Cattle in the Story of Agriculture.
- Download, print, and use the attached Round Robin Q&A Cards to review key concepts from the movie and book.
- Explain that the round robin begins with the teacher asking a question. The correct answer is on one of the student cards. That student reads the answer followed by the next question on their card. This process continues until all questions and answers have been read.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Cattle have multi-compartment stomachs which allows them to obtain nutrients from grasses, something humans cannot do.
- Cattle are produced in many states across the U.S.
- Beef cattle are raised for meat. They produce hamburgers, steaks, roasts, and other cuts of beef.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Visit the Interactive Map Project website and show the Beef Cow Inventory Map. Identify the top beef producing states and then find where your state ranks in beef cattle inventory.
Play the My American Farm interactive game The Steaks Are High.
Use the short video A Cow's Digestive System to further explore the unique aspects of a cow's digestive system that allow the animal to live on a diet of grass and other plants.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Tootsie Roll Conversation About Conservation Terms (Activity)
- 'Til the Cows Come Home (Book)
- Amazing Grazing (Book)
- Beef Cattle in the Story of Agriculture (Book)
- Cattle Kids: A Year On the Western Trail (Book)
- Has a Cow Saved Your Life? (Book)
- Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest (Book)
- Levi's Lost Calf (Book)
- Little Joe (Book)
- My Family's Farm Book Series (Book)
- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin (Book)
- Chew It Twice Poster (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Compliments of Cattle Poster (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Meat Cut Posters and Fact Cards (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Utah Agriculture Activity Map (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Where Does Your Cheeseburger Come From? (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- Beef Cattle PowerPoint (Multimedia)
- Bon a la Beef Videos (Multimedia)
- Into the Outdoors: Beef Farming (Multimedia)
- Into the Outdoors: Cattle in the Environment (Multimedia)
- Into the Outdoors: Meet the Meat (Multimedia)
- NMSU Field Trip: Beef (Multimedia)
- Riding the Range on a Utah Cattle Drive (Multimedia)
- Utah Beefscapes (Multimedia)
- Why Can a Cow Eat Grass? Video (Multimedia)
- Before the Plate Website (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
Culture, Society, Economy & Geography
- Provide examples of agricultural products available, but not produced in their local area and state (T5.3-5.e)
Food, Health, and Lifestyle
- Diagram the path of production for a processed product, from farm to table (T3.3-5.b)
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Provide examples of specific ways farmers meet the needs of animals (T2.3-5.d)
- Understand the concept of land stewardship and identify ways farmers care for land, plants, and animals (T2.3-5.e)
Education Content Standards
K-4 Geography Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems.
Objective 1The physical environment provides opportunities for and imposes constraints on human activities.
3-LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
3-LS4-3Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
5-PS3-1Use models to describe that energy in animals' food (used for body repair, growth, and motion and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.