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Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

North Carolina Agriculture in the Classroom

Lesson Plan

Cowabunga! All About Dairy Breeds

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students explore breed characteristics and countries of origin for five different breeds of dairy cattle and discover why dairy farmers choose individual breeds for specific purposes. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
Three 40-minute sessions
Materials Needed


Activity 1: Moos News

Activity 2: Geography Pathway

Activity 3: Ancient Civilizations Pathway

  • Small sticky note

breed: a group of animals or plants within a species having a distinctive appearance and typically having been developed by deliberate selection

dairy farmer: a farmer who specializes in raising dairy cattle, specifically for milk and/or cheese products

Background Agricultural Connections

This lesson is part of a series called, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy. These lessons introduce students to the history, production, nutritional value and economic significance of the dairy industry. Other related lessons include:

Dairy farms produce milk and are found throughout the United States. California is the leading dairy state in the nation. Dairy farmers provide a diverse selection of high quality and nutritious dairy products that place the state among the top dairy regions of the world. In this lesson, students will discover that there are five breeds of dairy cows. Jersey, Holstein, Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Ayrshire are all breeds used for milk production. Each breed has its own unique country of origin, physical attributes, and production traits.

More background information on the Dairy Industry can be found here.

  1. Ask students to brainstorm ideas of why cattle are important. Students may offer ideas such as providing milk and meat for our diets.
  2. Ask students, "How long have cattle been domesticated?" If necessary, describe and define domestication. Cattle have been domesticated for thousands of years. Even ancient hieroglyphics depict cattle as a part of early ancient civilizations.
  3. In this lesson, students will:
    • differentiate between different dairy breeds; and
    • create a map to illustrate the origin of five popular dairy breeds
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Moos News

  1. Brainstorming. Write the word “Holstein” on the board. Ask students to share their associations, ideas and responses to the word. They can input any related idea, with no criticism allowed. After brainstorming, explain to your students that today they will become experts on not only the Holstein, but also four other popular breeds of dairy cattle.
  2. Divide the class into cooperative learning groups. Each group will consist of five students. Explain to your students that they will be given the "Jobs Wanted" page from the newspaper Moos News. Each student will be assigned to read an article submitted by one of the five breeds of dairy cattle searching for a job.
  3. Distribute Moos News and Moos News Activity Sheet. This is a jigsaw activity, where students will need some time to work individually. Once all group members have completed their individual tasks, students will collaborate and share as an entire group. Instruct students to work individually, reading their job listing carefully and completing their section of the graphic organizer on the corresponding activity sheet. Collaboratively, they will share their findings using the information recorded on their activity sheet and complete the graphic organizer detailing characteristics of popular dairy cattle breeds.
  4. Students will select breeds of dairy cattle to best match the characteristics listed at the bottom of the Moos News Activity Sheet.
  5. Review the activity sheet questions. Have students explain why they chose breeds for specific purposes. Students should be encouraged to look for facts in Moos News to support their opinions.

Activity 2: Geography Pathway

  1. Give each learning group a world map or utilize maps found in class social studies textbooks. Use the detailed map on the Cowabunga! activity sheet to find specific locations of countries. Give each group a large piece of butcher paper, and have the students draw an enlarged version of the world map. Once students have completed the drawing, they will locate and label the following:
    • Each of the seven continents
    • Country of origin for each breed
  2. On a separate piece of paper, students draw an accurate picture of his or her designated dairy breed. Use tape to affix each breed near its country of origin.
  3. Using colored pencils, students track one possible route on their map for each breed’s arrival to America from its country of origin. Students also create a legend showing what color represents each breed.
  4. Students present their maps to the class, describing each breed and its physical characteristics. Example: “This cow is brown because it is a Brown Swiss dairy cow from Switzerland.”
  5. Review the concepts of longitude and latitude with students. Using the “Cowabunga!” activity sheet, students determine the longitude and latitude of each country of origin for dairy breeds. Students find and chart the longitude and latitude for the Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland, Jersey, and Guernsey.
  6. Students work together to create a list of technology that made exploration by sea (and the arrival of new dairy breeds) possible.

Activity 3: Ancient Civilizations Pathway

  1. Explain to students that ancient civilizations used cave carvings or hieroglyphics to record history, tell stories, or illustrate religious ceremonies. Often these cave carvings depicted a wide variety of cattle. Discuss with your class:
    • What does this tell us about the historical importance of cattle?
    • Why do you think cattle were so important to the ancient Egyptians?
    • How could cattle represent different social classes?
  2. Write the word “domestication” on the board. Give each student a sticky note and instruct them to write a synonym or definition of the word. Students place sticky notes on the board. Choose several creative and accurate responses to share with the class.
  3. Students choose one of the five breeds and create a cave drawing that depicts the breed of cattle at work. What might they be doing? Students write an explanation of their hieroglyphics at the bottom of the page.
  4. Students share their work in groups or present to the class.


  • Students can “show what they know” by repeating the brainstorming process used to introduce the lesson. Students will be excited to compare what they knew before to what they know now.
  • Given an encyclopedia set, students research countries of origin and breeds. Record five facts about the country and five breed facts on a tear sheet. Students illustrate their facts with images and participate in student presentations.
  • Students read Moos News aloud and complete activity sheet as a group.
  • Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the Dairy Cattle Inventory map. As a class, identify the highest milk producing states and discuss the factors which could contribute to the success of dairy farms such as climate, open space, etc. Identify where your state ranks in dairy cattle production and discuss the factors contributing to the statistic.

  • Read Issue 4 of Ag Today titled Agriculture in Society. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Students will learn how agriculture plays a significant role in different geographic areas such as small towns, large cities, and local, state, and federal government. It also places a focus on where food comes from and why different foods are grown in different states.

  • Using online satellite maps, have the students locate the countries of origin for each of the breeds. Ask students to respond to questions about the terrain, lifestyle, food, etc. Use online references to determine the accuracy of their answers.

  • Based on each grade-level curriculum, have the students perform a role play by taking on a persona from a particular period in history. This could include Spanish priests, pioneers, miners and more. Include a brief presentation about the time period, what type of cattle was important to their lifestyle, and how they relied on cattle for food and materials.

  • Use Moos News and historical documents to create a historical timeline. Have the students document the period of breed introductions to America as well as major historical events learned previously in class.


After conducting these activities review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Cattle have always been important to human civilizations.
  • Modern dairy cattle breeds have come from many locations throughout the globe.
  • Dairy cattle primarily provide milk to our diet and food supply.

This lesson was funded in 2008 by the California Milk Advisory Board and the California Farm Bureau Federation. To meet the needs of California educators, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy was created to meet the Curriculum Content Standards for California Public Schools. The unit also includes a collection of relevant resources about the dairy industry.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Layout and Design: Imelda Muziom

Mandi Bottoms
California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
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