Target Grade Level / Age Range:



30 minutes


Students will learn about the source of dairy products and how butter is made. This fun activity will have them curious about dairy cows and start the scientific inquiry process.


  • Cream (fresh or whipping), 1.5 oz per student
  • Table salt, ¼ teaspoon per student
  • Baby food jars or other small plastic containers with tight sealing lids
  • Yellow food coloring (optional), 2-3 drops per student
  • Loaf of bread or box of crackers
  • Butter knife
  • Napkins

Suggested Companion Resources

  • Life on a Dairy Farm by Judy Wolfman

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


  • Cow – an adult female bovine (cow) that has had a calf and produces milk
  • Heifer – a young female that has not had a calf yet
  • Bull – an adult male bovine (cow)
  • Butterfat – the natural fat of milk that is the main component of butter
  • Protein – a component of dairy products that helps keep muscles and body tissues strong and healthy.
  • Whey – a natural high-quality protein found in milk that contains all the essential amino acids – or building blocks – your body needs to be healthy.
  • Cream – cream is the layer that rises to the top of milk. It is higher in butterfat, and is what butter is made from.

Interest Approach or Motivator:

Ask students what butter is made from? Give them a hint by saying that it is made from something that comes from a plant or an animal raised on a farm. If they are still unsure, tell them that it is made from something that comes from an animal. 

Background – Agricultural Connections:

Butter has been a huge part of the American diet for a very long time! Butter comes from milk that dairy cows produce. On a typical dairy farm, cows are milked 2-3 times per day. The milk is never touched by human hands until it is opened after being purchased at a grocery store. This is made possible by mechanical milking machines that imitate a calf suckling, and mechanized processing from farm to final product.

The biggest dairy producing states are California and Wisconsin, because there is plenty of rolling land for cows to graze on.


  1. Read Life on a Dairy Farm with students. Discuss what a typical dairy farm would be like, and how dairy farmers care for their cattle. Some processing questions could include:
    1. What are some ways the farmer cares for his dairy cattle every day?
    2. What has to happen before a cow can be milked?
    3. What are some of the specific duties that Robert Hershey and his dad complete every day?
    4. What kinds of food do the cows on this farm eat?
    5. What do these farmers do to make sure their cows are comfortable?
    6. How do farmers work with the cow’s life cycle to make milk?
    7. How do dairy farmers make sure that the milk stays safe to drink?
    8. How do these dairy farmers use technology to farm?
  2. Watch the video: How's It Made: Butter
  3. Tell the students that they are going to make butter.
    1. Pour cream, salt and yellow food coloring into an individual jar for every student.
    2. Have student shake the jars until a ball of butter begins to form at the top. This will take 5-20 minutes with vigorous shaking. Shaking agitates the fat molecules in the cream, which clump together to make butter!
      1. Before butter was made in factories, like it is today, people made butter from cream using a butter churn. Churns had a rotating arm inside a barrel that would agitate the fat molecules in the butter, just like shaking it does.
      2. Today, butter is made by machines that age and agitate the cream on their own. The “How It’s Made: Butter” video shows this process in a butter factory!
    3. Slice the loaf of bread and share it with students, allowing them to try their homemade butter.

Did you know? (Ag facts):

  • Cows eat about 100 pounds of food every day and drink 30 gallons of water.
  • Butter is a good source of Vitamin A, which promotes strong bones and healthy skin.
  • Butter can be slightly yellow because of the natural pigment carotene, which comes from a cow’s diet. However, most butter is white and yellow food coloring is added to get the color you are more familiar with.
  • Historical note: margarine was originally dyed yellow to differentiate it from butter and when it was first produced in Wisconsin margarine was taxed differently than butter. After a while people became accustom to the yellow color and both butter and margarine were dyed yellow.
  • The average cow will produce 70 lbs (8 gallons) of milk per day.

Extension Activities:

  • Invite a dairy farmer to the classroom to talk with students about the life of a dairy cow, how farmers care for their animals, and the role of a farmer.
  • Compare how cows were milked and how butter was made 50 or 100 years ago today.  Why are different methods used today? How are the tools similar or different?
  • Investigate and discuss where dairy cows in Iowa are raised in Iowa and in the US.  Are there any dairy farms and dairy processing companies in your community?  Why or why not? 


Tracie Philllips

Organization Affiliation:

Humboldt County Agriculture in the Classroom

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber, & Energy Outcomes, K-2, Science: Identify animals involved in agricultural production and their uses (i.e., work, meat, dairy, eggs)
  • Culture, Society, Economy & Geography Outcomes, K-2, Social Studies: Trace the sources of agricultural products (plant or animal) used daily
  • Culture, Society, Economy & Geography Outcomes, K-2, Social Studies Discuss what a farmer does
  • Education Content Standards

Iowa Core Standards:

  • Science
    • S.K–2.SI.2 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Plan and conduct simple investigations.
  • Social Studies
    • SS.K.17. Compare life in the past to life today.
    • SS.1.11. Compare the goods and services that people in the local community produce with those that are produced in other communities.
    • SS.1.19. Compare how people in different types of communities use goods from local and distant places to meet their daily needs.
    • SS.1.21. Compare life in the past to life today within different communities and cultural groups, including indigenous communities.
    • SS.2.12. Identify how people use natural resources to produce goods and services.
  • 21st Century Skills:
    • 21.K–2.ES.4 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Develop initiative and demonstrate self–direction in activities.
    • 21.K–2.ES.5 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Work productively and are accountable for their actions.

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