Target Grade Level / Age Range:



1 hour

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. 


With the film FARMLAND, students will learn about the care of livestock on farms and consider regulations and government’s role in the industry. 


Suggested Companion Resources


  • Animal Welfare - as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association, is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.
  • Animal Rights - Animal Rights is a philosophical view that animals have rights similar or the same as humans. True animal rights proponents believe that humans do not have the right to use animals at all. Animal rights proponents wish to ban all use of animals by humans.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Students will begin by examining scenarios depicting government regulations that could impact their lives and determining how they relate to them.

Background – Agricultural Connections

A farmer is a livestock caretaker, and farmers are responsible for meeting the needs of animals on a daily basis. Specifically, farmers work with nutritionists to provide the appropriate feed ration for animals, monitor the animals for health issues, keep their barns clean and comfortable, ensure the health of animals who are giving birth, make decisions regarding the genetics of the animals, and work with veterinarians to protect animal health with vaccines and treat sick or injured animals, among other things. Farmers do abide by state-by-state animal cruelty statutes.

Humans and animals have lived together for thousands of year and throughout that time, humans have used animals for food and work. We used cattle, horses and bison to pull wagons and plows because they were strong and docile. Cattle and bison could also be used for meat, and cattle could be used for milk, as well. We have used pigs for their meat for a very long time. We have used dogs and cattle to control other animals and protect our farms because they are smart and trainable. Horses have been used to travel for hundreds of years. The relationship between humans and animals is strong; we rely on them for meat, milk, eggs, and by-products that are integral parts of our society, and they rely on us to care for them. The domestication of many animals means their basic needs are met by humans.

There are cases of animal cruelty that do happen. They happen on large and small farms alike, and are not representative of the industry. The vast majority of farmers abhor animal abuse, as stated in the film.

In some cases, common procedures that benefit the animal in the long run cause initial pain, and to an ordinary person, may look like abuse. For example, farmers clip the needle teeth of piglets to prevent them from injuring the mother when nursing and remove the tails of piglets to prevent other piglets from chewing on the tails – this can lead to infection and severe damage to the spine. Farmer Carrie Mess elaborates on this in her blog “Sometimes We Are Mean to Our Cows.”

Most Americans, including farmers, care about animal welfare, and that the animal is well taken care of and its needs are met. Some people, however, believe strongly that animals should not be used for meat, milk, or eggs, and should not be used for companion or entertainment purposes. These people would fall under the animal rights category, and may adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are several organizations that work to promote animal rights, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.


  1. Have students stand in a line in the middle of the classroom. Read the following scenarios to students, and if they believe the government’s action is appropriate, they move to the left. If they think the action is inappropriate, they move to the right. Then, students can share their thoughts, opinions and supporting arguments.
    1. Scenario 1: The government is advised that many people are being injured after not wearing seatbelts in the backseat of cars. They decide to make it illegal to ride in a car without a seatbelt, and fine the driver if a passenger is not wearing their seatbelt.
    2. Scenario 2: The government is advised that many children are becoming violent following the excessive playing of violent video games. Despite opposition, the government makes it illegal to create video games depicting the killing or purposeful injury of humans.
    3. Scenario 3: The government is advised that many American children are obese and this is causing health risks including heart disease and diabetes. The government decides to mandate that every school lunch served to a child must have under 500 calories and have a fruit and a vegetable. They also make it illegal to serve pizza or ice cream in school cafeterias more than once a month.
    4. Scenario 4: The government is advised that many people feel that the slaughter of horses is ethically wrong, even in situations where the owner of the horse can no longer afford the animal. The government outlaws the slaughter of horses.
  2. Introduce the idea of agricultural laws to students. All farmers have to abide by laws to protect animals, the environment, the consumer, and the community. Many people have thoughts and ideas on the way the government should regulate day to day activities both on and off the farm. One of the most hotly debate topics is animal welfare.
  3. Show the clip from FARMLAND. Give students 5-10 minutes to reflect and share their thoughts and opinions.
  4. Assign students a state. Let students use a computer, phone or tablet (or have them do this as homework) to visit the National Ag Law Center and research the animal cruelty laws in their assigned state. Have them write a list of the key points in the law for their state and be prepared to share with the class, so that the whole class has an idea of the standard for animal cruelty laws across the United States.  Examples of some of these key points could be:
    1. The laws not only cover the use of animals in animal agriculture, but also in K-12 education, hunting, fishing and trapping, research, and veterinary care outside of licensed veterinary clinics.
    2. Agriculture use and pet owners are not under the control of the law for buying and selling animals.
    3. Animals being transported across state lines must be unloaded every 28 hours for food, water and rest unless they have access to food, water and space to rest in the vehicle in which they are being transported.
    4. The focus of the animal welfare act is on pets and research animals – agriculture use animals are far less regulated.
    5. Depending on the state and the severity of the cruelty, punishment for animal cruelty can be anywhere from 5 days to 2 years in jail and/or up to $100,000 fine.
    6. In Iowa, livestock abuse is defined as intentionally administering drugs or poisons to animals or disabling livestock with a firearm or trap.
    7. In Iowa, livestock neglect is considered failing to provide livestock with care consistent with customary livestock husbandry practices, depriving animals of necessary sustenance, or causing harm to the animal in a manner inconsistent with animal husbandry practices.
    8. The Federal Humane Slaughter Act states that: “in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut;”
  5. Once students have shared their key points, introduce the idea of animal welfare vs. animal rights. Have students share their thoughts and experiences with these terms, focusing on ethics and values. How do the laws relate to animal welfare vs. animal rights? How does this situation relate to the scenarios presented at the beginning of the lesson? Why does government need to be involved in animal agriculture?
  6. Have students write a position paper of at least one page answering the question: “How is there too much or not enough regulation in the animal agriculture industry?” or “How much does animal rights differ from animal welfare and how should it be regulated?” Students should support their arguments with evidence from the film, the state laws, or other sources. Students should cite their sources.

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

Extension Activities

  • Have students in the class formally debate the issues with assigned positions. One side of the class would represent the opinion that more government regulation is needed and the other side of the class would represent the opposing view. The debate could continue additionally to include animal rights vs. animal welfare.
  • Have students speak to a farmer, or bring a farmer into the classroom, to discuss the day-to-day care of animals, the regulations they have to abide by, and their opinions on animal welfare vs. animal rights.
  • Have students create their own laws, using appropriate legal language, to outline what should and should not be considered against the law for animal caretakers. Have them explain the key points of their arguments.


Kelsey Faivre

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  •  Theme 2: Plants and Animals for food, Fiber and energy Outcomes
    • Evaluate evidence for differing points of view on topics related to agricultural production, processing, and marketing
    • Compare and contrast the differences between nature’s plant and animal lifecycles and agricultural systems (e.g., producers manage the lifecycle of plants and animals to produce a product for consumption)
    • Discuss reasons for government’s involvement in agricultural production.
  • Theme 3: Culture, Society, Economy & Geography Outcomes
    • Explain the role of government in the production, distribution and consumption of food

Common Core Connections

  • SS-Gov.9-12.24. Analyze how people use and challenge public policies through formal and informal means with attention to important judicial processes and landmark court cases
  • SS-Gov.9-12.25. Evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the implementation of public policy, specifically looking at the bureaucracy, citizen feedback, public opinion polls, interest groups, media coverage, and other related topics.
  • Key Ideas and Details: RI.9–10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • Text Types and Purposes: WHST.9–10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline–specific content.
  • Technology Literacy: 21.9–12.TL.3 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
  • Technology Literacy: 21.9–12.TL.4 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Demonstrate critical thinking skills using appropriate tools and resources to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions.
  • Employability Skills: 21.9–12.ES.5 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Demonstrate productivity and accountability by meeting high expectations.
  • History: SS.9–12.H.2 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand how and why people create, maintain, or change systems of power, authority, and governance. 

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