Farm-Based Education Lesson: Beef Cattle vs. Dairy Cattle

Updated on September 29, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a park ranger's daughter and farmer's daughter with a love for all things agriculture and outdoors.


The 5-E Instructional Model

This lesson is written in the 5-E instructional model, which is well known to school teachers for experiential science education. They are:

  • explain
  • explore
  • engage
  • elaborate
  • evaluate

Though it may sound intimidating, I actually find this model helps me write organized lessons.

Farm-Based Education Curriculum Lesson: Beef vs. Dairy

  • Objective: To learn the differences between beef and dairy cattle
  • Who could use this? Farm-based educators, 4H leaders, and teachers

1. Explain What the Differences Are Between Dairy Cattle and Beef Cattle

Start by asking anyone if they know what dairy is. Hopefully, someone will! Explain that a dairy cow produces milk, as opposed to beef cattle that are raised for meat purposes. Write the two definitions down on a poster board or a marker board.

Next, you're all going to play a game. Basically, you are going to play the good, old game of Duck, Duck, Goose, but instead, you are going to say, "Dairy, dairy, beef." Play long enough for everyone to get up and run around a little bit—maybe ten minutes or so.

2. Explore Different Cow Breeds

You will need to make up cards with one side having a photo of the breed of cow and name. The other side will have a description that includes whether the breed is primarily used for beef or dairy.

You could use whichever breeds you want, but I chose the following (I've also included a few quick facts on each if you would like to use them in your program).

Dairy Cows

Holstein: The Holstein is the world's highest production dairy animal. The Holstein is also the most commonly recognized breed in America. They can be found in every country.

Jersey: The Jersey Cow is a smaller breed. It is known for high butterfat in its milk. Jersey cows are also known for calving easily and have become popular in crossbreeding, even to beef breeds to decrease calving-related injuries

Brown Swiss: The Brown Swiss Is the second highest for annual milk production. Their milk averages 4% butterfat and 3.5% protein. This milk is popular for cheese making.

Guernsey: The Guernsey is a fawn or red and white-colored cow. Their milk is rich in flavor and high in fat and protein. They tend to have a golden yellowish color due to their carotene content. The Guernsey cow is known for being calm and docile.

Beef Cows

Angus: Angus is the most common beef breed in the U.S. The native color is black, but some reds have emerged.

Hereford: The Hereford cow can thrive in harsh climates. There is a polled variant of the Hereford (hornless), which was created by a natural genetic mutation.

Simmental: The Simmental cow originated in Europe and is known for the rapid growth of their young. No other cattle breed has as many breed variations as the Simmental.

Shorthorn: The shorthorn cow is known for the marbling of its meat, ease of calving, and carcass quality. They are also known for being mildly tempered cattle.

Play a Short Game

You will put all of the cards in a basket and pass the basket around the classroom. Everyone will take a card, show the picture, and read the description aloud (especially the part about whether the breed is beef or dairy). After they have read the card, they can put it back in the basket. If the same card gets read over again, it's no problem. Hopefully, the information will just sink in a little more.

Next, depending on the size of the group, you can either divide them into teams or partners. Set a timer and tell them they are only allowed to look at the picture side of the card. Have them organize the cards into two separate rows: one for beef and one for dairy. When they are done, stop the timer and then have the others check their rows to see if they are right or wrong. Then the leader can correct any mistakes and give the next team a try. See who can organize the breeds the fastest.


3. Engage the Kids With a Quiz

Next, you are going to explain that there are many other beef and dairy breeds, and you just chose a few popular ones to focus on for this lesson.

Have the following statements written on slips of paper in a basket. Pass the basket around and have each person pick a slip and read it to the group.

  • A dairy cattle's average lifespan is 15-20 years.
  • A dairy cattle's average weight is around 1500 pounds full grown.
  • A dairy cow produces about 2,305 gallons of milk per year.
  • The gestation period of both beef and dairy cattle is the same—about 283-285 days.
  • A beef cow that is not slaughtered can live 15-20 years.
  • Normally the beef cow is slaughtered between 12-18 months old.
  • The average size of a beef cow is between 1400 and 1600 pounds, but some can be as small a 700 or get as heavy as 2,000 pounds.
  • An average beef steer weighs about 750 pounds and will yield about 490 pounds of boneless trimmed beef.

After you have read all the statements, give the students a little quiz, which will include the statements minus the part about whether they apply to beef or dairy cattle. Have them write that part in. Afterward, have them switch papers and grade each other, while going over the answers as a group.

4. Elaborate by Sharing More Facts

  1. Have the students divide into either pairs or teams, depending on group size, and read them the following statements. They can use the back of the quiz paper to write the answers.
  2. As you read the questions, have them decide with their partner or group if the answer is true or false.
  3. Once they are done, they can switch papers and grade each other as you go over the answers.

You can come up with any statements that you would like; these are just the ones that I chose. If you use these statements, the answer to all of them is true!

  • There are 46,000 beef cattle in Maryland.
  • There are 47,000 dairy cattle in Maryland.
  • There are 94.4 million cattle in the United States.
  • 9.4 million are dairy, the rest are beef cattle.
  • The top three beef-producing states are: Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas.
  • The top three dairy producing states are: California, Ohio, and New York.


5. Evaluate

Test how much they learned about dairy vs. beef by doing the following:

  1. Divide into two teams and have a timer set for however long you would like.
  2. Have them list as many products as they can that come from dairy cattle.
  3. Go over that list and see which team got the most.
  4. Go ahead and set the timer again and have them list as many products as they can that come from beef cattle.
  5. See which team had the most!

Now, one last test. Show them the photo cards again of the four breeds of dairy cattle and the four breeds of beef cattle. Let them study the cards for a minute if they want or think they need to.

Then, one last time, have them organize the photos into two rows—one of dairy and the next of beef breeds. Hopefully, they all get it right. If they don't, let them work together to correct their work.


Other Fun Ideas

  • It would be fun for the kids at the end if they each had a set of the breed cards to take home with them.
  • Also, it might be fun to eat something at the end of the lesson—a small bowl of ice cream and maybe a hot dog. This way, they can appreciate the two different types of cattle that produce these products.

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