Target Grade Level / Age Range:

3 rd grade

Estimated Time:

Two 45-minute classes


Students will be able to identify and explain differences between pork production in the past and modern pork production. Students will look at genetics and nutrition and how societal demands have affected the pork industry.


  • 14 index cards
  • Tape
  • String or yarn (optional)
  • Paper clips or clothes pins (optional)
  • Nine brown M&Ms and one red M&M candy
  • Slow cooker
  • Meat thermometer
  • Package of hot dogs
  • Tongs
  • Plate or bowl
  • Toothpicks
  • Plastic knife
  • Ketchup and/or mustard

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

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Domesticated: tame and kept as a pet or on a farm, cultivated for food.
  • Litter: the group of piglets born at the same time to one mother.
  • Lean: a person or animal that is thin, especially healthily so; having no extra fat.
  • Claim: an assertion of the truth of something, typically one that is disputed or in doubt.
  • Evidence: the available facts or information proving whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.
  • Traits: a distinguishing quality or characteristic.
  • Inherited: derive a quality or characteristic genetically from parents or ancestors.
  • Parasite: an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits at the host's expense.

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

Today’s pork is now leaner than the pork your parents grew up with. Today, pork is 75 percent leaner than in the 1950s. Pork producers have met consumer demand for leaner, more nutritious sources of protein by using new practices and better feed. The result? On average, the six most common cuts of pork are now 16 percent leaner than 19 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped 27 percent. Pork tenderloin — one of the most popular cuts of pork — has less fat and fewer calories than boneless, skinless chicken breast.

The first pigs evolved in Southeast Asia from earlier, smaller mammals, about two million years ago, and spread out from there all over Eurasia and Africa. Wild pigs live in forests, especially where there are oak trees that make acorns, because pigs like to eat acorns. People first met pigs before they left Africa; they cooperated with dogs and used spears and nets to hunt wild pigs in the forest. We call male wild pigs boars. Wild boars are very dangerous to hunt. They are big and smart, and they have long sharp tusks and teeth.

People first began to keep tame pigs about 10000 BC, in Central Asia. From Central Asia, tame pigs spread slowly east to China and Vietnam (by around 2000 BC), and south-west to West Asia and North Africa. People also tamed pigs separately in Europe, maybe about the same time. In central Europe (what’s now southern Germany and Austria), people combined their pigs with the salt from the big salt mines there and got good at preserving pig meat by making it into hams and bacon and sausages.

Pigs evolved bright coat colors rapidly after domestication thanks to the human penchant for novelty, a new gene analysis suggests. Farmers selected and bred the brightly colored pigs to distinguish them from their brown and black wild cousins and probably also because they preferred the unusual colors. At the other extreme, the gene analysis shows that wild pigs today are evolving through natural selection to maintain camouflage colors to escape detection by predators.

These changes and other technology changes over the years, like refrigeration and significantly altered how pork is processed, stored and consumed. Food safety regulations have also helped ensure that each cut of meat is handled correctly to minimize exposure to pathogens and allow for a healthy product to be sold to consumers.

The safe internal pork cooking temperature for fresh cuts is 145° F. To check doneness properly, use a digital cooking thermometer to measure the temperature at the thickest part of the cut without touching any bone. Once you have reached the desired internal temperature, remove from heat and let it rest for three minutes.

Interest Approach – Engagement (what will you do to engage students at the beginning of the lesson)

Have students read the book My Family’s Pig Farm. Students can practice the literacy strategy of summarizing. Begin by reading the text on pages 11-12. Ask students the following framework questions:

  • What are the main ideas? (Responses may vary: technology helps keep pigs comfortable and healthy with air temperature and feed)
  • What are the crucial details necessary for supporting the ideas? (Responses may vary. Computers control the temperature and open the windows. Computers monitor the amount of food and water consumed. Automated feeds bring in fresh feed.)
  • What information is irrelevant or unnecessary? (Responses may vary.)
  • Have students use key words or phrases to identify the main points from the text. (i.e. computers, temperature, feed, water, automated)

Transition into the lesson by asking students if they think farmers used computers 50 or 100 years ago.


  1. History of pigs: Farmers have been raising pigs for a long time. Through this activity, students will construct a timeline and an order of historical events. NOTE: This lesson deals with historical timelines. It might be useful to preteach terms like BCE or CE and explain timelines. The lesson also discusses locations around the world. If a world map is available in the classroom, it might be helpful to point out where the locations are to students. A large digital world map could also be displayed. 
    1. Prep the room by drawing a long horizontal line on the blackboard. Label one end as ‘oldest’ and one end as ‘newest.’ Students will tape their cards with events to the board along the line. (Alternatively, you can suspend a piece of string and have them clip their cards on using paperclips or clothespins.)
    2. Prep the activity by writing each one of following events on a 3x5 index card.
      1. Pigs roamed the earth 40 million years ago.
      2. Pigs were domesticated 7,000 years ago in western Asia.
      3. Pigs were bred for specific purposes 3,500 years ago.
      4. Pigs were widely used for meat in Europe by 1500 BCE.
      5. Jewish religious law banned eating pork by 1000 BCE.
      6. Christopher Columbus brought eight pigs with him to the New World in 1493.
      7. Hernando de Soto brought pigs to America (Florida) in 1539.
      8. Hernan Cortes introduced pigs to New Mexico in 1600.
      9. Sir Walter Raleigh brought pigs to the Jamestown colony in 1607.
      10. In the 1700s corn became the most common feed for pigs.
      11. By the 1850s nearly 70,000 pigs per day were shipped through Ohio to the East Coast.
      12. In 1887, the refrigerated railroad car was introduced. Pork could be refrigerated and shipped longer distances.
      13. Farmers had advances in pig genetics in the 1990s. Pigs now have larger litters, less disease, and more muscle growth.
      14. Today, more than 100 nations import U.S. pork.
    3. Have students work as individuals or in pairs. Give a card to each student or each pair of students. Have them read the card and discuss. Help students with any vocabulary they are unfamiliar with.
    4. Have students come up to the board one at a time or one group at a time and place their card on the timeline. They can tape the cards to the board or clip them onto the string.
    5. Once all the cards have been placed, review the timeline and ensure they are in the correct order. Have students gather around the timeline and then review each event. The student team that placed the card can help explain it.
    6. Have students explain probable causes and effects of each event or development. Use the following prompts to facilitate discussion.
      1. Why were pigs first domesticated? (They have a varied diet and were likely scavenging in the garbage piles of early humans. The pigs became accustomed to humans and eventually were domesticated.)
      2. Why did Jewish law ban eating pork? (Because pigs ate waste they were viewed as being unclean and there was the fear of disease.)
      3. Why did Columbus bring pigs on his voyage? (Queen Isabella insisted because they could survive the voyage with minimal care and supplied an emergency food source, if needed.)
      4. Why did corn become the primary feed for pigs? (It was easy to grow in the United States – especially in the Midwest – and provided quick energy and most of the essential nutrients for the pigs to grow.)
      5. Why did farmers want pigs to have larger litters and be leaner? (Larger litters meant they could produce more pigs. As the American consumer became more health conscious they wanted less fat in their diet. Leaner pigs appeal to the health-conscious American consumer.)
    7. Have students create a claim about the past based on the evidence they have learned. Each student should write a one-sentence claim. Students can read their claim and then explain why they think the claim is true based on the evidence of the timeline. An example claim might look like:
      1. Pigs were an important food source for early American explorers.
      2. Many Asians ate the meat that came from pigs.
    8. Leave the timeline displayed so that students can reference it if needed throughout the rest of the activities.  
  2. The first activity covered 40 million years of history of pigs. Ask students if they think that pigs looked the same throughout that entire time.
    1. Show students a picture of a wild boar that pigs are thought to have evolved from (in the Breeds of Pigs document).
    2. Today domestic pigs come in a variety of colors – red, brown, black, white, but many are pink. Show the students the remaining pictures of the domestic pigs. Ask students if the ancestor is dark colored, why are many of today’s pigs pink?
    3. Present the students with nine brown M&Ms in a bowl and one red M&M. Ask students which one of the M&Ms is their favorite. Take a poll of the class. (It is highly likely that a majority or all of the students will identify the one red M&M as their favorite.)
    4. Explain that humans like things that are new and different. So, when farmers had a piglet that was a little bit different they kept it and let it breed. If two pigs had lighter skin and hair coats bred, their offspring would be even lighter in color. Farmers did this until the pigs were pink in color and had only a very thin layer of hair on their coat.
    5. Have students work with a partner to create a list of other traits that may be inherited from a parent. Assign each pair of students a different animal to work with.
      1. Possible animals: beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, fish, dogs, cats.
      2. Have them provide examples of each trait and if possible, evidence that proves the mother and the father exhibited the trait.
      3. For example, a list of traits inherited from parents in beef cattle might include: coat color, eye color, height, weight, horns. An example of coat color might be black (Black Angus cattle) or red (Red Angus cattle).
      4. Give the students five to 10 minutes to work and create their lists. Monitor their progress and provide each group help or guidance throughout. Have each pair of students share their list with the class. If desired, students could conduct internet research to find picture examples of their traits.
    6. To transition to the next main point and activity, ask students if they think the traits of the mother and father affect the quality of meat the animal produces.
  3. Nutrition aspects of eating pork.
    1. Ask the students to brainstorm a list of meat products that come from pork. Students can refer to page 21 in the My Family’s Pig Farm book for ideas. The list can include, but should not be limited to: pork chops, ribs, tenderloins, ham, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, side pork, salt pork, ham hocks, pork belly, pork steak, ground pork, rib roast, shoulder, hot dogs, etc.
    2. Share with the students, that pork can be a nutritious source of protein. A single serving of pork (3oz. – roughly the size of a deck of playing cards) has 300 calories and provides 25 grams of protein. It contains all the essential amino acids necessary for the growth and maintenance of our bodies. In fact, meat is one of the most complete dietary sources of protein.
    3. Ask the students if they think there should be any rules around eating pork. Provide the example of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service rule that pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Ask students if they can explain what the purpose of this rule is.
      1. Explain that pigs (just like any other animal) can get parasites. These parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, and protozoa can occasionally be found in the meat. If eaten, they can cause humans to get sick. Cooking the pork to 145 degrees F will kill the parasites so humans won’t get sick.
      2. Ask students what other rules or laws might be important to keeping humans safe when consuming food.
      3. Ask students to think about how this rule of cooking pork to 145 degrees F might affect restaurants, home cooks, and other people who work with pork.
    4. Prep the lesson by bringing in a crock pot and a package of pork hot dogs (most hot dogs are pork). Have the hot dogs cooking. Have a student volunteer assist in a demonstration. Remove one hot dog with tongs and place it in a bowl or on a plate. Insert a meat thermometer into the hot dog and check to see if it reads 145 F or more. If it does, then you can declare the hot dog safe to eat. You can remove the hot dogs and cut them up into bite sized pieces. Provide toothpicks to skewer the hot dog pieces. Provide ketchup and mustard for dipping. Invite the students up to try a piece of hot dog. NOTE: Some students may choose not to eat pork products for cultural reasons. You may offer an alternative food item. 
  4. Review, Wrap-Up: Exit Slips
    1. Provide each student with an index card for students to write down their responses.
    2. Ask students to respond to a questions or prompts.
      1. Write one thing you learned today.
      2. I didn't understand…
      3. I would like to learn more about…
    3. Collect the cards as the students leave to go home, to recess, or to lunch.

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The serving size of a piece of pork is 3 ounces – about the same size as a deck of playing cards.
  • Swine were among the first of all animals to be domesticated—around 6,000 years ago. The Chinese were the first to raise wild pigs for food.
  • Bacon is one of the oldest processed meats in history. The Chinese began salting pork bellies as early as 1500 BC.
  • The Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto brought the first swine to the New World in 1539.
  • A pig's squeal can range from 110-115 decibels. Compare that to the Concorde jet, which is usually under 112 decibels.
  • Female swine are called sows. Sows give birth to litters of pigs twice a year. Each litter usually has eight to 12 baby pigs. Giving birth to baby pigs is called farrowing.
  • Baby pigs appear very greedy when they are competing for food from their mothers. For this reason the words “pig” and “hog” have come to be associated with greedy behavior.
  • Pigs are weaned when they are two to four weeks old. They are called “nursery pigs” until they reach 50 pounds and “growing/finishing pigs” from then until they reach about 240 pounds. After that they are called hogs. Hogs are usually taken to market when they weigh 240-300 pounds.
  • In the past hogs were fed table scraps and had a reputation for eating just about anything. The meat from hogs fed that way was very high in fat. The hogs would eat corn, grass, clover or even table scraps that would have otherwise have become garbage. The word “hogwash,” meaning something that is worthless, came from this practice.

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

  • Distribute copies or provide the digital version of Iowa Ag Today: Food, Health and Lifestyle. /ArticleFile/File/6E18657C-DE7F-42DE-8FAE-F3C1B42A7AAC/IALF_IAT_issue2_Digital version FINAL.pdf Have students read the centerfold article titled Pork: From the Farm to You. Have students write a short story that explains the process in their own word.
  • Distribute copies or provide the digital version of Iowa Ag Today: Food, Health and Lifestyle. /ArticleFile/File/6E18657C-DE7F-42DE-8FAE-F3C1B42A7AAC/IALF_IAT_issue2_Digital version FINAL.pdf Have students read the centerfold article titled Pork: From the Farm to You. Once students have read the Think & Discuss question, have them write a thoughtful response or explanation to it.
    • Many pigs are produced in states that also raise a lot of corn and soybeans. Why do you think that is?
    • Corn and soybeans are major components in a pig’s diet. Raising them close to where their food is grown is cheaper for the farmer.
  • Provide students the life cycle of a market pig infographic. Have students create a book that tells the story of a pig’s development. Make sure they include all four stages (gestation, farrowing, nursery, and finishing).
  • Have students conduct research and compare the nutritional qualities of pork to chicken, beef, or other meats. Ask them to develop a poster or presentation that would highlight why pork can be a nutritious part of the human diet.

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)



Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T3.3-5.b. Diagram the path of production for a processed product, from farm to table (extension activity)
  • T4.3-5.c. 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.)

Iowa Core Standards

  • SS.3.10. Explain how rules and laws impact society. (21st century skills)
  • SS.3.15. Analyze why and how individuals, businesses, and nations around the world specialize and trade. (extension activity)
  • SS.3.25. Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.  
  • SS.3.26. Develop a claim about the past based on cited evidence.
  • 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. (extension activity)
  • 3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.

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