Target Grade Level / Age Range:

3 rd grade


45 minutes

Virtual Learning:

Use this document to convert the lesson into a virtual learning module for your students. Use the steps outlined to create the different elements of a Google Classroom or other online learning platform. You can also send the steps directly to students in a PDF, present them in a virtual meeting, or plug them into any other virtual learning module system. 


To help students understand how beef cattle are raised and the role that plays in their lives and in Iowa, while practicing math topics outlined by Iowa Core standards.


  • My Family’s Beef Farm by Katie Olthoff, one copy per student
  • My Family’s Beef Farm. Math Sheet   
  • My Family’s Beef Farm. Math Sheet Key  

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Livestock: farm animals including cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, poultry, and others that are raised for food and fiber
  • Companion animals: pets like dogs, cats, and horses
  • Pasture: a grassy, fenced-in field where livestock like cattle can eat and live
  • Calf: a baby cow
  • Veterinarian: a doctor for animals. “Vet” for short
  • Rotational grazing: moving cows frequently to different paddocks of grass
  • Ruminants: animals that can eat grass including cattle, goats, and sheep
  • Sustainability: raising livestock in a way that is environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially responsible
  • Efficient: preventing the wasteful use of a particular resource
  • Cattle rations: a carefully balanced, nutritious diet that is developed with a livestock nutritionist and changes as the cattle grow
  • Beef Quality Assurance: a program created in 1987 that includes research, training, and certification that helps farmers and ranchers provide the best care for their cattle

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content)

While there are two types of cattle mainly produced (those for meat and those for milk), beef cattle are produced in all 50 states and all 99 counties in Iowa. They hold an important place in Iowa agriculture specifically because of their synergetic relationship with corn production.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Farmers don’t just play with cows, they have lots of math to do! What math do you think they have to do? What math do you have to do on a daily basis? Do farmers have to do that, too?

Possible types of math that farmers do:

  • Calculating feed costs
  • Calculating feed ration amounts
  • Calculating veterinary bills
  • Calculating costs of transportation of animals
  • Weighing the animals


  1. Have students read or listen to the My Family’s Beef Farm book. Allow students to view the photos and make observations.
    1. Discuss “The Beef Story” with students.
      1. As the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, the beef industry contributes to the American economy in many ways.
      2. In the United States, approximately 800,000 ranchers and cattlemen raise cattle in all 50 states.
      3. Across the United States 98% of these farms are family owned and operated. 80% of the cattle operations have been in the same family for 25 years or more and 10% for more than 100 years.
      4. In Iowa, cattle are raised in all 99 counties; there are 21,000 beef cow operations and 7,845 feedlots that are family owned and operated.
      5. The cattle industry in Iowa has 26,500 related jobs and has a large economic impact on the state of Iowa as it contributes $5.1 billion in business activity to Iowa’s economy.
      6. Iowa’s cattle business helps Iowa’s grain farmers by using 148 million bushels of corn as cattle feed.
      7. The meat that we get from full-grown cattle (about 18 to 24 months old) is called beef. A live steer averages about 1,234 pounds and yields 522 pounds of edible meat.
      8. This calf is a baby beef animal. It weighs about 70 pounds when it is born. The calf will try to walk soon after it is born so that it can eat.
      9. Calves nurse from their mother’s udder several times a day. The udder is part of the female cow that provides milk for the calf. A calf will nurse from its mother several times throughout the day and night. Calves stop drinking milk when they are about six months old. When calves learn to eat and drink on their own, they are weaned. Weaning separates the cow from her calf so the calf can eat more food and grow. The calf usually weighs between 500 –600 lbs at weaning; they are called feeder calves.
  2. Have students review the book again, and mark each number (excluding ages and years) mentioned in the book using post-it notes. Students can compare with a partner before taking turns writing the numbers they found on the board. Facilitate a discussion with the students about the numbers they found, if they were surprised or not, and why.
    1. Numbers in the text:
      1. About one million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. raise cattle.
        1. According to IBIC, the beef industry is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture.
      2. Iowa is home to more than 26,000 cattle farms. 97% of the farms in the U.S. are family farms like Cecelia’s.
        1. Most farms are family farms, and in Iowa, every single county produces cattle. That’s a lot of family farms like Cecelia’s!
      3. He has 100 momma cows who live out here on pasture.
        1. Depending on the operation, things like number and location of cattle can change. In this operation, they raise the cows on pasture and calve outside. The photos in the book can help portray the differences between pastures and cattle barns.
      4. A new calf weighs about 70 pounds. It can walk just 1 hour after it is born. The calf stays with its mom for about 6 months, drinking her milk and learning to eat grass.
        1. Compared to a newborn baby, newborn calves are huge! But relative to the size of the mom, it’s pretty comparable! (Average calf weight ~70 lbs. / average cow weight ~1300 lbs. = .05; average baby weight ~7 lbs. / average female weight ~162 lbs. = .04)
        2. Calves also walk very soon and don’t stay with their moms as long. This could be compared to dogs or cats, and can be related to the natural lifespan of cattle, which is about 20 years.
      5. An average calf weighs 70 pounds at birth. An average 3 rd grader weighs 50 to 60 pounds!
      6. When the calves are about 6 months old, they begin eating more grass and grain.
        1. As baby animals grow up, they start eating different kinds of foods. Human babies are also introduced to solid foods around 6 months!
      7. There are more than 70 breeds of cattle in the U.S.
        1. Breeds are characterized by color, size, body type, and some characteristic differences. Some major breeds in Iowa are Black Angus, Hereford, and Charolais (shar-lay). Different parts of the world use different breeds to match their environment better.
      8. Ruminants have four compartments in their stomach to help them digest the grass.
        1. The four compartments are:
          1. Rumen
            1. Feed first goes to the rumen, which is the largest part of their digestive system. Here the feed ferments, which helps the animals get more nutrients from difficult to break down substances, like plant matter.
          2. Reticulum
            1. Since ruminants eat quickly and don’t take time to chew, the feed goes here before it is regurgitated to chew later. This regurgitated food is called “cud”. Sometimes, the rumen and reticulum are called the reticulorumen, since they work together so closely.
          3. Omasum
            1. The omasum’s primary duty is to absorb water. This is a smaller compartment with lots of folds to absorb as much water as possible.
          4. Abomasum
            1. The abomasum is the true stomach. This compartment is very similar to the stomach of a non-ruminant, or monogastric.
      9. When grandpa’s calves are about 550 pounds, they move to the feedyard on our farm.
        1. When cattle are in feedyards, they tend to grow faster. Here, they will get higher value feeds like grain before they reach market weight.
      10. Veterinarians, or vets for short, attend college for four years and then a college of veterinary medicine for four more years.
      11. The calves come to our farm when they are about six months old. They stay here for about 200 days. Dad feeds them once a day. He checks on them two more times each day.
        1. Feeder calves, which are cattle that are old enough to be placed in a feedyard, are often raised in this way. This topic could lead to discussion on what the farmer looks for when he checks on the calves each day. Things like not eating, limping, looking sick, or equipment failure could all be reasons to check on them.
      12. When the cattle weigh about 1300 pounds, we sell them.
        1. The average live weight at harvest was 1,330 in 2014, according to the USDA in a 2015 report. That’s 22 third graders (at 60 lbs.)!
      13. The handling and care of more than 90% of feedyard cattle is influenced by this [Beef Quality Assurance] program.
        1. BQA is a program to help producers learn, understand, and utilize the best practices in raising cattle safely and humanely.
      14. More than 1000 quarter pound hamburgers can be made from a 1300 pound steer, as well as steaks, ribs, and roasts.
        1. 1000 quarter pound hamburgers is 250 pounds of ground beef!
      15. There are 38 cuts, or types, of lean beef. One serving of lean beef ( 3 ounces) provides 10 nutrients your body needs each day, for about 150 calories.
        1. There are many cuts of beef, including brisket, chuck roast, flank steak, ground beef, sirloin steak, tenderloin roast, and much more!
        2. The 10 essential nutrients in beef are: iron, choline, protein, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin.
      16. One 3 ounce serving of beef is about the size of a deck of cards or a cell phone.
      17. Beef provides more than 10% of the Daily Value for 10 essential nutrients.

Either as a class or separately, have students work through the math problems on the attached page. If working separately, bring class together to discuss at the end.

Worksheet Key:

Multiplication problems (left to right): 40, 42, 24, 30, 100, 75

  1. 560 pounds
  2. 90 times
  3. 100 acres
  4. 320 square feet
  5. 6 square miles

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Many cows eat mostly corn, and no state grows more corn than Iowa!
  • Cows are raised in all 99 counties in Iowa!
  • There are over 70 breeds of cattle, but two of the most popular in Iowa are Black Angus and Hereford!
  • Iowa is the 7 th highest beef cattle producing state!
  • Iowa is the 12 th highest dairy cattle producing state!

Extension Activities (how students can carry this beyond the classroom)

  • Students can interview their parents to learn about what kind of math they do at home or at work.
  • Students can keep track of the numbers they interact with or math they do for a day, and look at what that means and how that impacts them.


Iowa Beef Industry Council


Chrissy Rhodes

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 2: Plants and animals for food, fiber & energy outcomes: Understand the concept of stewardship and identify ways farmers/ranchers care for soil, water, plants, and animals
  • Theme 2: Plants and animals for food, fiber & energy outcomes: Provide examples of specific ways farmers/ranchers meet the needs of animals
  • Theme 3: Food, health and lifestyle outcomes: Identify food sources of required food nutrients
  • Theme 4: Science, technology, engineering & mathematics outcomes: Identify examples of how the knowledge of inherited traits is applied to farmed plants and animals in order to meet specific objectives (i.e., increased yields, better nutrition, etc.)
  • Theme 4: Science, technology, engineering & mathematics outcomes: Provide examples of science being applied in farming for food, clothing, and shelter products

Common Core Connections

  • 3.OA.A.1: Interpret products of whole numbers, e.g., interpret 5 x 7 as the total number of objects in 5 groups of 7 objects each
  • 3.OA.A.3: Use multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem
  • 3.OA.C.7: Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 x 5 = 40, one knows 40/5 = 8) or properties of operations
  • 3.NBT.A.3: Multiply one-digit whole numbers by multiples of 10 in the range 10-90 (e.g., 9 x 80, 5 x 60) using strategies based on place value and properties of operations
  • 3.MD.C.5: Recognize area as an attribute of plane figures and understand concepts of area measurement
  • 3.MD.C.7: Relate area to the operations of multiplication and addition
  • RI.3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers
  • RI.3.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area

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