Animal Life Cycles
This lesson introduces students to six major livestock species, teaches that animals need air, space, food, water, and shelter to survive, and introduces students to the life cycle of a farm animal.
Interest Approach – Engagement:
- Farm Animal Pictures
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)
- How Many Hats Does a Farmer Wear? activity sheet, 1 per student
- Crayons or markers
- Metal brads, 1 per student
Activity 2: Farm Animal Life Cycles
- Animal Flashcards, 1 classroom set
by-product: a secondary or incidental product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else
livestock: farm animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and others who are raised for their meat, wool, milk, or eggs
Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
- 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 a light blue or green color.
- The word "cow" is often used to refer to cattle in general, however, cow actually refers to female cattle.
Background Agricultural Connections
Farm animals or livestock are an important part of our nation’s agricultural industry and also 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.
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 slaughtered at the appropriate point in its lifecycle) 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.
This lesson will allow students to learn the needs of livestock animals compared to the needs of humans and the life cycles that these animals complete. For an additional lesson teaching farm animal terms and what each animal produces, see Farm Animal Match.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Display the Farm Animal Pictures to show each of the six major farm animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, horses.)
- 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, horses are used to help with work or to ride for recreation, 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) You can have the students physically sort pictures of the animals or the cards if you would like.
- 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. In this lesson, students will be learning about farm animals, how they grow through their life, and what they need to live.
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 of the mother terms on pink paper, the second page with the father cards blue, and the final page with the newborn 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 newborn animals that have more than one offspring at a time. Ideally you would 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 12 or 15 for each.
- Sheep have 1-3 lambs so you could make up to three lamb cards.
Activity 1: Needs of Animals
- With the six farm animal pictures still on the board from the Interest Approach – Engagement, 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 of these animals need food, water, shelter, space and air to survive.
- 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.)
- Inform the students that farmers need to know a lot about their animals to make sure that the animals are taken care of and grow big and strong because they provide food for us.
- Help students begin to understand the skills a farmer must have to properly care for their animals by completing the activity, How Many Hats Does a Farmer Wear
Activity 2: Farm Animal Life Cycles
- Explain to your students that in your container (the box or hat you prepared prior to the lesson) you have cards that represent a mother, father, and baby for each of the livestock animals. Show your students the designated place in the room where each livestock species will gather.
- Example: The mother sheep, father sheep, and baby sheep will all gather in the front corner. Place the picture of the livestock animal from the Interest Approach – Engagement) in the location to clarify where each animal species should gather.
- Have each student draw an animal card from your container and then travel to their designated gathering spot.
- Instruct the students to share the information on their card with the other students in their gathering spot.
- Once students have shared with their group, ask for each animal group to share the information about the mother, father, and baby to the rest of the class.
- Discuss with the students how these animal families or groups change over time. Help students understand:
- Young/babies will grow and become mothers and fathers.
- Mothers will have babies.
- Mothers and fathers will grow old and eventually die.
- Animal species can be used for meat and many other by-products. (Note: horses are not used for meat in the United States.) Farmers send animals that are raised for meat and by-products to market (slaughter) when they reach the age/size to produce the most nutritious product for humans to consume.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
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 breath.
- All farm animals go through a life cycle that begins when they are born/hatched. Baby animals grow into adult animals and can become parents.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
View videos clips on livestock production in Minnesota.
Visit a local farm to observe farm animals in person.
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.)
Use the About Farm Animals Mini Kit for students to learn more about what farm animals eat and what they produce.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Farm Pop-Ups
- A Day in the Life of a Farmer
- A Young Shepherd
- Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs
- Down on the Farm: Pigs
- Farm Animals
- Farm Animals: Chickens
- Farm Animals: Sheep
- From Sheep to Sweater
- Levi's Lost Calf
- My Family's Farm Book Series
- Pigs & Pork in the Story of Agriculture
- Pigs: An A to Z Book
- Sheep on the Farm
- The Year at Maple Hill Farm
- About Farm Animals Mini Kit
- Livestock Cards
- Sheep Crossing