California Agriculture in the Classroom

Build it Better

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8

Estimated Time

45 minutes


In this lesson students investigate animal handling preferences and design a cattle corral system that is durable, efficient, and effective. Students will also discover the skills needed to be an agricultural engineer.


For the class:

For each group:

For each student:

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


well-being: the contentment of an animal measured by indicators including behavior, physiology, longevity, and reproduction

handling: the manner in which an animal is treated

agricultural engineer: the branch of engineering that deals with the design of farm machinery and the location and planning of farm structures

behavior: the way in which an animal acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.

environment: the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates

livestock: domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food and fiber

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is one in a series of 5 related lessons to promote the development of STEM abilities and critical thinking skills, while fostering an appreciation for the people involved in livestock production. For more information about what STEM is, why it's important, and how it can be implemented in your classroom, watch the video, What is STEM? The curriculum includes real-life challenges for students to investigate, inquiry-based labs, and opportunities to plan and construct models. Featured careers include:

Livestock can be difficult to move and direct. Many animals will not move forward if they are fearful of something they see, hear, or smell. Removing these distractions can greatly reduce animal handling problems. If animals feel safe in their environment and are relaxed and comfortable with the handler, they often move with little or no force.

The stress caused by poor handling environments has a negative impact on animals—it lowers livestock productivity, diminishes weight gain, reduces reproductive performance, and decreases the animal’s ability to fight disease. By understanding the behavior of livestock and designing environments that keep animals calm, livestock producers can greatly reduce animal stress. Significant work has been done by Colorado State University professor, Temple Grandin. She has made advancements in animal handling practices by researching how livestock perceive their environment and by designing livestock facilities that help keep animals calm.

Agricultural engineers have an important role in designing livestock facilities. They work with animal specialists and apply basic science and engineering principles to design solutions to challenges in livestock production. In general, agricultural engineers may design agricultural machinery and facilities such as tractors and their implements, animal housing and handling facilities, irrigation and drainage systems, and soil conservation measures. In this lesson, students act as agricultural engineers by investigating animal handling preferences and designing a corral system that is durable, efficient, and effective in moving cattle.

Refer to the Answers to Commonly Asked Questions for more background information.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Discuss with your students the following vocabulary words: well-being, environment, behavior, and livestock.
  2. Ask your students the following questions and lead a class discussion:
    • "What are some elements of animal welfare that should be considered when caring for animals?" (their necessities of life such as food, water, and shelter are met)
    • "What are the benefits to the farmer for having calm and content animals? What are the benefits to the consumer?" (calm animals are easier for the farmer to work with and generally produce more milk, meat, or eggs.)
  3. Inform your students that in this lesson, they will:
    • Investigate animal handling preferences.
    • Use online resources to research solutions to real-life problems.
    • Plan and construct models.
    • Design a cattle corral system that is durable, efficient, and effective.
    • Learn about the skills needed to be an agricultural engineer.


  1. Help students start thinking like engineers by sharing this scenario:
    • Maxine has an aging German shepherd named Frankie. Maxine needs to take Frankie to the veterinarian for his annual check-up. Since Frankie has gotten older, he can no longer get into Maxine’s truck independently. Unfortunately, Maxine broke her arm in a skiing accident last week and cannot lift him. It’s 9:45 and Maxine needs to think of a quick, safe, and efficient way to load Frankie into the truck for his 10 o’clock appointment. Put your engineering thinking cap on and let’s solve the problem!
  2. Brainstorm and record student ideas for loading Frankie into the truck. Remind students to think about keeping Frankie calm and safe while accomplishing the desired goal. Tell students that agricultural engineers apply basic science and engineering principles to design solutions to challenges in agricultural production. Highlight the responsibilities and skills of an agricultural engineer:
    • Agricultural engineers may design agricultural machinery and facilities using drawings and models.
    • Agricultural engineers use their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems.
    • Agricultural engineers need to be creative with the ability to envision new designs such as tractors and their implements, livestock handling systems, irrigation systems, and animal housing.
    • They must understand science and engineering concepts
  3. Tell students that in today’s activity they will be designing a corral system for cattle. Temple Grandin is a legend in the world of animal agriculture. She is known for her extraordinary understanding of the animal mind which has assisted her in designing animal handling systems—especially in cattle production. Temple Grandin gives credit to her autism, a condition that makes social interactions with other people challenging, for helping her understand how animals think and respond to their environment.
  4. Show the first minute and 40 seconds of a video that introduces Temple Grandin and her work. There are also a variety of videos available on the Temple Grandin YouTube channel. Grandin also improved slaughterhouse design, so you may wish to filter which video students watch.
  5. Review the Build It Better Design Plan handout with the class. The objective of the project is to design a model livestock corral and alley way for loading livestock onto trucks for transportation. The goal of your design is to keep the animals calm and safe. Your group will be graded on the effectiveness, efficiency, and durability of your design. As groups research and plan their design, they should record their progress on the Build It Better Design Plan handout. Each group must have teacher approval for their plan before starting construction. Introduce students to the available construction materials and divide students into groups.
  6. Once students have completed their models, groups will present their design to the class in a three-to-five-minute presentation. Students should highlight research findings, design characteristics, modifications, and their construction procedure. You may wish to grade the models using the Build It Better Design Grading Rubric or have students complete the rubric to grade their peers.
  7. Conclude the lesson by discussing the reflection questions on the Build It Better Design Plan handout.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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


build it better

ELL Adaptations:

Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources


This lesson was funded in 2012 by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program (SPECA). Graphics submitted by California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Illustrator: Erik Davison
Layout and Design: Nina Danner




Mandi Bottoms & Sherrie Taylor Vann

Organization Affiliation

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom