Target Grade Level / Age Range:

Kindergarten, 1 st grade


40 minutes


Students will be introduced to dairy cows and will understand that dairy products, like milk, come from these animals.


  • Milk Comes From a Cow?  By Dan Yunk

Suggested Companion Resources:


  • Holstein – the most common type of milk cow; a dairy breed that is uniquely black and white spotted
  • Jersey – Another common breed of milk cow that is generally smaller and brown
  • Guernsey – a third breed of dairy cow that is usually brown and white spotted
  • Dairy cattle - cattle that are raised primarily for milk production
  • Udder - a large bag between a cow’s rear legs where milk is stored
  • Milking machine – a gentle machine that collects milk from the cow’s udders
  • Milking parlor – the place where cows go to be milked

Background – Agricultural Connections:

  • This lesson focuses on strengthening literacy through reading, writing, and sequencing activities. These skills can tie to either kindergarten or first grade standards.
  • Dairy cattle are different from beef cattle. There are many breeds of cattle, and some are better at producing milk than producing beef. These are called dairy cattle.
  • There are about six main breeds of dairy cattle.
    • Holsteins are the most common. These are the cows that Chik-Fil-A uses in advertising. They are notable for their huge frame, high milk production, low milk fat, and of course, black and white spots.
    • Jersey cattle are also quite common. They are noticeably smaller framed, and more tan in color. They have a higher butterfat and protein content than Holsteins, so often times the two breeds are crossed. This causes hybrid vigor, but also helps the offspring produce lots of milk that is high in protein. These hybrids are sometimes called “HoJos”. You can see a Jersey cow on page 15 of Milk Comes From a Cow?
    • Brown Swiss cattle are known for being strong and hardy. These cattle can be even larger than Holsteins and produce large amounts of butterfat and protein, like Jerseys. They’re not as commonly used in commercial production simply because of the Holstein’s capacity for milk production, but they are still a common, hardy, dependable breed.
    • Guernseys have some spots, but their coloring is more reddish-brown. They are sometimes called “Golden Guernseys” because their milk is actually slightly golden in color. This is because they produce large amounts of beta-carotene, which is a source for Vitamin A.
    • Ayrshire cattle vary some in color, but are generally red and white spotted. They are known for being healthy animals.
    • Milking Shorthorns should not be mistaken with their beef breed counterpart. Milking Shorthorns are among the least popular, but have loyal producers that appreciate their durability and grazing efficiency.
  • The dairy animal’s lifecycle does vary from the beef animal’s lifecycle, though they are the same species.
    • Dairy calves will be weaned from their mother much sooner, and fed milk replacer instead. This helps the producer collect more of the mother’s milk, and can help keep the calf away from various kinds of bacteria, diseases, etc.
    • Calves are housed in hutches. They look something like large, plastic doghouses with a front lawn. This is also a step that producers take to decrease disease outbreaks. Nose to nose contact with other calves increases their risk of getting sick.
    • When a heifer (female calf) begins cycling, she will be bred using artificial insemination. Many dairy producers will now purchase “sexed semen,” which means that the semen in the straw contains only the sperm that will produce a certain sexed animal. Since females are more profitable in the dairy industry, they may elect to purchase semen that results in a female calf.
    • Some producers do not purchase sexed semen and will have bull calves (males). In a majority of these cases, the calves will be castrated somewhat early in life (then called steers) and will be sold to a feedlot to be fed out with other beef animals. Male animals used for meat production are castrated to decrease the concentration of testosterone. Testosterone makes the meat much less palatable (think pepperoni, sausage, etc.).
    • Dairy bulls are not very common, although they are very necessary. Dairy breeds are notorious for having mean bulls, so when AI (artificial insemination) became common, many producers were happy to purchase semen and not have to raise the bull. There are some producers that raise bulls, collect semen, and sell that product to other producers.
    • Dairy cows (mature females) will not milk continuously after they calve once; they generally dry off in about 305 days. Cows will continue to be bred until they become unproductive. This can vary between breeds, animals, and operations, but the average has been falling to about 2 lactations per animal. Once she has fallen unproductive, the cow will generally be taken to market.
  • Milking time can work differently at various operations.
    • Many operations milk twice a day, but some are moving to three times per day.
    • Cows will often know it is milking time and walk themselves to and from the milking parlor without much assistance. Cows enjoy milking time, as it relieves pressure and they can even get a snack!
    • Before and after milking, producers will clean the cows’ udders as well as equipment. They also may take a couple squirts of milk from each cow before milking to check for discoloration, chunks, or other signs of infection. One thing in particular producers watch for is mastitis. If a cow does look like she is suffering from an infection or disease, her milk will not be added to the other cows’ milk. She will be separated and treated.
      • If a cow is treated with antibiotics, her milk will not be collected for sale until the withdrawal period is up. Each antibiotic has a strict time limit on the label, so products from the animal (meat or milk) cannot be collected until that time limit is up. If a producer is found to have antibiotic residue in their bulk tank (milk collection tank), they will face huge fines or possibly get their farm taken away.
    • Most producers use automatic milking machines that latch onto the cow’s udder like a vacuum. They will unlatch automatically when the cow is finished milking. Some producers use robotic milkers that don’t require people to place the machine on the animal at all.

Interest Approach or Motivator:

Show pictures of milk cows and ask students ‘Which of these cows are milk cows?’. The answer is ALL of them. Pictures can be found here:


  1. Tell students that today we are going to learn about dairy cattle.
    1. Question prompts:
      1. Where do we find cows? (farms)
      2. Why do you think there are different kinds of cows? (direct students to the idea of dairy cows vs. beef cattle)
  2. Read Milk Comes From a Cow?  by Dan Yunk.
    1. Point out key words in the text, as well as images in the book.
  3. After reading, ask students to recall facts from the story. What was interesting? What didn’t they know before?
    1. As a class, write a “How to Milk a Cow” paragraph to model ordinal words and paragraph structure.
  4. Help students sequence the correct order for milking cows. This activity could be expanded to include trucking, processing, and eventually consumption of the milk.
  5. Watch the YouTube video of milking a cow titled “How Cows are Milked” by Dairy Moos:  https :// www . youtube . com / watch ? v =8 G 1 Cl 2 nB 2 mE
  6. After watching video, reread our class paragraph “How to Milk a Cow.” Ask students - how is our paragraph different/the same as what we saw in the video.
  7. Ask students to write their own “How to Milk a Cow” paragraph using ordinal words (first, next, then, last, finally).
    1. As students write, walk around to help assist them. Allow students to draw a picture of what their paragraph says.
    2. Collect the paragraphs at the end of class

Did you know? (Ag facts):

  • There are about 1,370 licensed dairy herds in Iowa
  • Iowa is 12 th in total pounds of milk produced in the U.S.
  • Iowa is 9 th in fluid milk bottling.
  • Iowa is 8 th in total dairy products processed.
  • Iowa is 9 th in cheese production.
  • Iowa is 6 th in cottage cheese production, and in production of American cheese.
  • Iowa is 4 th in ice cream production!

Extension Activities:

  • Skype with (or visit) a local dairy farmer/dairy farm



Lynne Osing

Organization Affiliation:

Albia Community School District, Albia, IA

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • Identify animals involved in agricultural production and their uses (i.e., work, meat, dairy, eggs) (T2.K-2.b)

Iowa Core Standards:

  • Science:
    • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. 
  • Language Arts:
    • Kindergarten:
      • (Writing) W.K.2 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
      • (Writing) W.K.5: With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed.
      • (Writing) W.K.8: With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
      • (Reading) RI.K.1, DOK 1: With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
      • (Reading) RI.K.1, DOK 2: with prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts.
    • 1 st:
      • (Writing) W.1.2: Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
      • (Writing) W.1.3: Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.
      • (Writing) W.1.5: With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed.
      • (Writing) W.1.7: Participate in shared research and writing projects
      • (Writing) W.1.8: With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
      • (Reading) RI.1.2: Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
      • (Reading) RI.1.7: Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.

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