Relevancy and Engagement

Farm Animal Life Cycles

Grade Level
K - 2

Students investigate six major livestock species, discover that animals need air, space, food, water, and shelter to survive, explore the life cycle of a farm animal, and identify the products each farm animal produces. Grades K-2

Estimated Time
60 Minutes
Materials Needed


Activity 1: Needs of Animals

  • Props or pictures to represent:
    • Food (apples, corn, oats, etc.)
    • Water (water bottle)
    • Shelter (toy barn, shed, tent, umbrella)
    • Air (balloon filled with air)
    • Space (empty box or bucket)
  • Animal or Human? Slideshow

Activity 2: Farm Animal Life Cycles

Activity 3: Livestock Products


by-product: an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else

livestock: farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people

Did You Know?
  • Goats, sheep, and cows don't have upper teeth in the front of their mouth (incisors). 
  • A breed of chicken called an Aracauna lays eggs that are light blue or green in color.
  • The word "cow" is often used to refer to cattle in general, however, cow actually refers to female cattle.
  • A cow's hide, or skin, is about 1/8" thick. In comparison, the thickest areas of human skin (soles of feet and palms of hands) are only 4 millimeters thick. The thick hide helps protect cattle from the cold and other elements.
  • Cows, sheep, and goats are called "ruminants." This means they have a stomach with four compartments allowing them to gain nutrients from foods that humans cannot. In addition, the digestion process creates heat to help the animal stay warm in the winter.
Background Agricultural Connections

Farm animals or livestock are an important part of our nation’s agricultural industry and an important part of our survival. Not only do these animals serve to produce food (milk, meat, and eggs) high in protein, vitamins and minerals; they also provide many by-products (leather, wool, medical products, etc.) which we cannot live without.

Farm animals have specific names according to their gender and age. For example, an adult female sheep is called a ewe and an adult male is called a ram. A newborn or young sheep is called a lamb. You will find a list of animal terms in the Livestock Flowchart. While more terminology exists, this lesson focuses on the names of adult males, females, and babies.

Those involved in the production of livestock animals must understand the needs of animals at each stage in their life cycle. These agriculturalists realize that they are raising livestock for two major purposes. First, for meat and by-products (this means the animal will be sent to market or harvested at the appropriate point in its life cycle) and second, to produce more animals (these are the males and females that are bred to create offspring). Farmers and ranchers feed and care for animals according to their needs, which depend upon their age and their location.

Farm animals and humans have similar necessities of life to live and grow. Humans and animals both require food, water, and shelter. However, these life necessities are fulfilled in different ways. Humans need clean or purified water. Animals can drink from streams, ponds, and other natural water sources and generally be unaffected by microorganisms that make humans sick. Both animals and humans require healthy food for their diet. Most farm animals thrive on feed that humans cannot digest. For example, cows, goats, and sheep have a multi-compartment stomach which allows them to break down and use the energy and nutrients found in grass and hay. These farm animals then convert their energy into food humans can eat, such as meat and milk. Animal and humans both need shelter from harsh elements—heat during cold weather and cool air during extreme heat. Humans regulate body temperature with their physical environment. We generally live in heated houses to protect ourselves from the cold and use blankets and sweaters to keep warm. Animals have natural defenses. Thick hair or wool on livestock provides insulation from cold temperatures. In some climates, farmers provide enclosed barns or covered areas for warmth in the cold and shade in the heat. 

  1. Display the Farm Animal Pictures to show each of the six major farm animals (beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys).
  2. Ask the students:
    • What do all of these animals have in common? (they live on farms, they provide milk, meat, or eggs for us to eat, etc.)
    • What is different about these animals? (size, shape, food they produce, etc.)
    • If we were going to sort them into different groups, how would you sort them? Why? (two legs vs. four legs, feathers vs. hair/fur, big vs. small, etc.) Allow the students to physically sort pictures.
  3. As you discuss the similarities and differences, point out that all of the animals grow from babies into adults and that they need specific things to live and grow. Explain to the students that they will be learning about farm animals, how they grow through their life, and what they need to live.
    A common misconception is that all cattle have horns. As the students view the pictures of cattle, point out that not all cattle have horns. Cattle breeds such as Texas Longhorn, Highland Cattle, and Ankole Watusi are known for their large horns. However, many ranchers and dairy farmers prefer polled cattle breeds (cattle that lack horns) to prevent injury to itself and other cattle in the herd. Both male and female cattle can have horns and the horns can be big or small, curved or straight, and bend in different directions. Some cattle have their horns removed when they are young by farmers and ranchers. Naturally polled cattle have been selectively bred to lack horns.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Needs of Animals

  1. With the six farm animal pictures still on the board from the Engage activity, ask the students what these animals need to survive. When a student replies with one of the five elements of survival (food, water, shelter, space, air), ask which of the animals need that element. (all animals do!) As each need is mentioned, have a volunteer hold the appropriate prop by one of the animal pictures so that, by the end of the discussion, you have five students holding props. Help students understand that this visual representation shows us that all these animals need food, water, shelter, space, and air to survive.
  2. Ask the students, "How do animals get these items needed for survival?" (Farmers provide animals with food, water, shelter, and space. The atmosphere provides air that animals breathe, just like humans.) Clarify that farmers need to know about the needs of their animals to make sure that the animals are taken care of and grow big and strong because they provide us with food. 
  3. Explain to the students that animals and humans have the same basic needs. However, their needs are met in different ways. For example, people live in heated houses to stay warm in cold weather. Some animals live in barns or other shelters, but animals have other means of staying warm. Sheep have a thick coat of wool, cattle have thick hair, and chickens have feathers to keep their bodies warm. 
  4. Use the Animal or Human? slideshow to show a picture of a necessity of life. If the necessity is for a human, the students should point to their left. If the necessity is for a farm animal, they should point to their right. (Their hand signals will follow the direction of the pictures on the slideshow as it is projected on the screen.) Explain facts from the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson as you proceed through the slides.
  5. Conclude and summarize that animals and humans have similar needs to survive and to be healthy. However, the needs are provided in different ways.

Activity 2: Livestock Life Cycles

Preparation: Before class, copy the Animal Flashcards back-to-back, so the term and picture is on the front and the information is on the back. Print the first page with all the female terms on pink paper, the second page with the male cards blue, and the final page with the offspring terms green or yellow. Cut out the cards (using the lines on the front as a guide) and place them in a hat, box, or other container. If you have more than 16 students in your class, make multiple copies of the offspring cards for animals that have more than one offspring at a time. Ideally, you will have just enough cards so each student will receive one.

  • Sows have 8 to 12 piglets, so you could make up to twelve piglet cards.
  • Turkeys and chickens have 10-15 young, so you could make up to 15 for each.
  • Sheep have 1-3 lambs, so you could make up to three lamb cards.
  1. Explain to the students that in your container (the box or hat you prepared prior to the lesson) you have cards that represent a female, male, and offspring for each of the livestock animals. Show your students the designated place in the room where each livestock species will gather.
    • Example: The male sheep, female sheep, and their offspring will all gather in the front corner. Place the picture of the livestock animal from the Engage activity in the location to clarify where each animal species should gather.
  2. Have each student pick an animal card from your container and then travel to their designated gathering spot.
  3. Instruct the students to share the information on their card with the other students in their gathering spot. 
  4. Once students have shared with their group, ask each animal group to share the information about the female, male, and offspring with the rest of the class.
  5. Make a list of similarities that can be seen among the parents and their offspring. For example, adult dairy cattle and their offspring have four legs, their ears and eyes look the same, and they have a similar coat (hair) texture. After you have identified similarities, ask the students what is different about the calf. Students may notice that the calf's coat pattern, or it's "spots," are different. Help the students conclude that baby animals are similar to their parents, but they are not exactly identical.
  6. Discuss with the students how these animal groups change over time. Help the students understand:
    • Young will grow into adults and can become parents.
    • Females will have babies.
    • The adults will grow old and eventually die.
    • Animal species can be used for meat and many other by-products. Farmers send animals that are raised for meat and by-products to market when they reach the age/size to produce the most nutritious product for humans to consume.
  7. Share information with the students from the Livestock Flowchart about each animal's birth and growth and when they are ready for market.

Activity 3: Livestock Products

  1. Ask for student volunteers to share what they ate for dinner last night. Make a list on the board of a few of their responses. Circle the food items that were produced by animals. For example, meat, milk, eggs, dairy products, etc. Ask the students if they know where these products come from. Help the students understand that many healthy foods and items we use every day are produced by farm animals. 
  2. Organize the class into groups of six. Provide each group with a set of Livestock Products Cards. Have each group sit in a circle. Designate one student in each group to set up the game. They will give each player a Livestock Card and place the Product Cards face down in the middle of the circle.
  3. Explain that each player will take turns (moving clockwise around the circle) choosing one Product Card. If the item pictured on the chosen card comes from the animal on the player's Livestock Card, they have a match and they keep the Product Card. If the card is not a match, they place it face down in the same spot from which they chose it. The first player to collect all three matching cards is the winner.
  4. After the game, share information with the students from the Livestock Flowchart about each animal's processing and products.
  5. Project the Livestock By-products image onto a large screen. Explain that in addition to the products pictured in the game, animals also provide by-products, items produced in addition to the primary product. Use the Livestock Flowchart to discuss the by-products.
  • Use the About Farm Animals Mini Kit for students to learn more about what farm animals eat and what they produce.

  • View videos about livestock production from the Virtual Tours video collection.

  • Visit a local farm to observe farm animals in person. Reinforce what students have learned in the classroom by helping them recognize the names of various farm animals, what products they produce, and what they need to be healthy.

  • Create an opportunity for students to write about a day in the life of a specific animal. A writing prompt might be: I woke up this morning and I had magically been transformed into a ______________ (calf, bull, hen, etc.).

  • Play the My American Farm interactive game Memory Match.

  • As a class, read the book Who Grows Up on the Farm? by Theresa Longenecker. 


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

  • Farm animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and turkeys provide milk, meat, and eggs for humans to eat.
  • Farmers raise these animals and are responsible to care for them. This includes providing food, water, shelter, space to grow, and air to breathe.
  • Animals and humans have the same necessities of life. However, they are fulfilled in different ways.
  • All farm animals go through a life cycle that begins when they are born/hatched. Young animals grow into adult animals and can become parents.
Sue Knott and Andrea Gardner
Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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