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.


  • My Family’s Beef Farm by Katie Olthoff – one copy per student
  • White board and markers
  • Photos of various foods for humans and cattle
  • Tape or magnets to place the photos on the white board

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)

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.

This lesson plan will go into nutritional differences of ruminant animals versus monogastric, or simple stomach, organisms. Simply put, ruminant animals gain much more energy from plant material than mogastric animals do, because they ferment the material in the rumen before it reaches the abomasum, which is their true stomach. Monogastric animals do ferment some of their food, but not to the same extent, and this occurs after the stomach, making it much more difficult to obtain nutrients from the same plant material.

Ruminant animals have four compartments to the stomach, all with different duties. The four compartments are:

  1. Rumen: 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: 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: 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: The abomasum is the true stomach. This compartment is very similar to the stomach of a non-ruminant, or monogastric.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Who likes cheeseburgers? Do you know things made from leather? Who has glue? All of these products and more come from cattle!

To take this a step further, students can look around the room for items made from beef by-products. Challenge them to find these items could be bandages (from bones, horns or hooves), glue (made from animal bones), crayons (from fats or fatty acids), plastics (from fats or fatty acids), paint brushes (from animal hair), paint (from fats or fatty acids), soap (from fats or fatty acids), chewing gum (from fats or fatty acids), or leather in clothing and shoes (from hides and skins).


  1. Have students read or listen to the My Family’s Beef Farm book. Allow students to view the photos and make observations. Supplemental material from the Iowa Beef Industry Council or Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation can also be referenced.
    1. Discuss “The Beef Story” with students.
    2. What are cattle? Bovine, a technical term for cattle, means an animal of Bos or related closely to the genus of the family Bovidae (cattle).
      1. Cattle are divided into two genus: Bos indicus and Bos taurus.
      2. Another defining characteristic of a bovine is that they are ruminants (have a four-compartment stomach).
      3. The meat that we get from full-grown cattle (about 18 to 24 months old) is called beef.
      4. A live steer averages about 1,234 pounds and yields 522 pounds of edible meat.
    3. What do cattle eat?
      1. Cattle eat grass, hay and other plant products that people cannot eat.
      2. A pasture is a field of grass that is grown to feed animals. When cattle eat grass, it is called grazing.
      3. Cattle graze on land that can’t be used for other food production because it is too steep or hilly, or too dry or too rocky for growing crops.
      4. Cattle grazing helps keep the weeds from growing.
      5. Keeping this land in grass or pasture helps prevent soil from washing away. When cattle are properly grazed, they benefit the land by loosening the soil when they walk on it. This allows more oxygen to enter the soil, helping grasses and plants grow better. Cattle also provide a natural fertilizer to the soil in the form of manure which provides nutrients for the soil, its plants and grasses.
      6. About 1.2 billion acres of land in the US are classified as grazing land – one half the size of the United States. At least 90% of those acres are covered with grass. Indigestible by humans, grass can by digested by cattle, which in turn becomes beef and dairy products. Farmers cut hay and grass, dry it, and put it in large round bales.
      7. Cattle eat hay in the winter when grass doesn’t grow. June, July and August are haying time on most cattle farms. Hay consists of long grasses such as alfalfa that have been cut and dried to use as animal feed. Farmers cut the grass with a big mower and leave it to dry in the field for about two days. The dry hay is bundled into bales and stored in the barn. Round/large bales weigh about one thousand pounds. A round/large bale is enough hay for 2-3 days. (This would be for 120 breeding females or 32 feeder calves, both getting additional feed supplements.) In the fall, after the fields are harvested, cattle can eat cornstalks left in the cornfields. Grass, hay and cornstalks are all roughages that cattle eat.
      8. About one-third of the corn grown in Iowa is used to feed livestock. This corn is field corn, not the sweet corn that we eat. After calves are weaned, they go to a feedlot to eat more and grow ready for market. Corn is grown to feed livestock; it is harvested by the combine and then ground up for cattle to eat. Or corn can also be fed as silage. The whole corn plant is chopped, while green, and then stored in tower silos, pits, or trenches. Feeding grain to cattle produces more tender, juicy, great-tasting beef.
    4. Why can cattle eat these things but we can’t?
      1. Cattle can eat grass and hay, and all other kinds of roughages, because they are ruminants. This means their stomach has four parts. When cattle are in the pasture, sometimes it looks like they are chewing gum. Cattle are chewing their cud. After eating, cattle chew their cud which is feed that is brought back up from their stomach to chew. Cattle spend one-third of their life eating, one-third ruminating (chewing cud) and one-third resting.
      2. The RUMEN is one part of the cow’s four-part stomach. It can digest things like hay and grass that humans cannot. Chewing their food again helps them digest the grass and hay.
      3. Humans are called monogastrics (sometimes called a simple stomach) because their stomach has only one compartment. Humans don’t have the chemicals and microbes in their stomachs that also aid in the digestion of cellulose, which is the main component of roughages.
  2. After the book has been read, ask the students to summarize what the book was about, or ask about specific parts that they remember. Allow students to discuss key topics.
  3. Use the white board to draw a large Venn Diagram with one circle labeled “humans” and the other labeled “cattle”.  Talk about how the book described what cows eat (grass and corn). Ask how that is different from what people eat. Talk about why that is different.
  4. As a large group, ask students what foods are eaten only by people (i.e.: cheeseburgers), what is consumed by both (i.e.: water), and what is eaten by only cattle (i.e.: grass).
  5. Cut out pictures of various foods that humans and cattle eat.
  6. The class can either choose volunteers to place the photos of foods in their spot in the Venn Diagram, or each student could receive a food that they are responsible for placing in the Venn Diagram.
    1. Humans: oranges, pineapples, cheeseburgers, strawberries, sweet corn, bread, bananas, ice cream,
    2. Cattle: hay, grass, alfalfa
    3. Both: water, soybeans, field corn, milk
  7. Discuss the foods, and why some are trickier than others. Like field corn is a main ingredient of cattle feed. But humans also use it in things like tortilla chips and corn syrups. Milk is mainly consumed by humans, but baby cattle also drink it. This could lead to discussion on how the diagram would look different if it were a lion or a bird instead of a cow.

When wrapping up, ask students what they learned during the activity.

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

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Ruminant animals have four stomach compartments, each with different jobs!
  • Many cattle producers in Iowa also produce corn!
  • Ruminants’ four stomach compartments are called a rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum!
  • A cow’s rumen works kind of like a compost pile, helping them get lots of energy from different kinds of materials, like plants’ cell walls!

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

Students can keep track of what they eat in a notebook for one week. They then can look back to see how many times they’ve eaten beef.


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-LS2-1: Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive
  • 3-LS1-1: Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death
  • 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all
  • 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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