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Fifth Grade Unit

Farm Animals as Immigrants; Author: Meg Millard, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Leading Question: How and when did they get to where they live?


The Back Story: This unit is dedicated to Maggie Young of Sanford, NC. As a fifth grade student, Maggie received an assignment to write a paper about American Immigrants. Having grown up on a farm with rare breed animals, Maggie came up with the idea of farm animals as immigrants. Her teacher did a mental double-take when saw how Maggie had approached the assignment, but then commended Maggie's creativity.   Maggie lives at Dew Dance Farm where her family raises rare breeds for fiber. When we asked her how she came up with the idea, she chuckled; it was just common sense and everyday life.   Fifth grade teacher Meg Millard, of Frank Porter Graham in Chapel Hill loved the concept and turned Maggie's idea into a successful Social Studies and Science Research Unit: standards-driven, student-centered, inquiry-based and technology intensive.

Thank you Maggie and Meg!

Key Concepts

National Geography and Social Studies Education Standards
• Technology
• Geographic distribution of rare (heritage) breeds
• Adaptation to specific climates • Immigration and Settlement
• Colonial Times, colonization
• Westward Expansion and the Agrarian Economy
• Your state or the United States

Critical Skills:

• Do independent research for background information
• record and report on what you have learned.


Social Studies Connection: Farm Animals as Immigrants This unit is applicable to studies of Your State or the United States. Students can study the uses of the animals in their state as a part of state history, or, they can study the animals and their uses as they dispersed across the US.

Through the field trip, students gain an immediate sense of place and connection to their local community, a sense of history, and a connection to the land and dependence of domestic animals.

There are endless opportunities for interconnection and independent study in this un it. Do you have a railroad buff in your class? Have them research the movement of the people and animals by train. In Idaho, the Thunder Mountain Line carried sheep and cattle. Which sheep? Which cattle? Where were they from? What breeds were they? Who wanted them? For what purpose?

• Immigration and Settlement The goal of this unit is to help students discover that there were other, nonhuman immigrants that came to this country when it was settled by Europeans. Human and nonhuman immigration continues today. When we trace the paths people have taken around the world, we also trace the paths of domesticated animals.

• Geographic distribution of rare (heritage) breeds: Geographic distribution has broadly affected the development of breed variation. From the needs and preferences of farmers and consumers for specific products, to the adaptive ability of particular breeds, geography plays a role in how these animals have developed over time. Local climate, transportation systems, cultural ideology, human tastes, habitat demands and so forth: the factors influencing the development of these breeds are limitless. Our current farming practices, which focus on large, specialized farms that produce only a few products, do not support the use of animals that are adapted for a variety of uses, such as the Milking Devon Cow which can be used for milk, meat and as a draft animal.

• Colonial Times, colonization Rare breeds played a critical role in the establishment of the United States of America. Early settlers, and even the founding fathers selected breeds to import to the States, and developed them further on this continent, so that they became ideally suited to the local environment and the preferences of people. Some breeds were developed in the U. S. and are therefore ideally suited to this landmass. These are called landrace breeds. Students will discover/learn that many of the farm animals of the early colonists are rare and endangered today.

• Westward Expansion and the Agrarian Economy Heritage breeds pulled the carts and wagons that made trails across this country; they pulled the plows that dug fields for crops in the newly established agrarian economy; they ate the bugs, snakes and weeds that pestered the farmers, and they fed and clothed the people with their meat and wool.

• Adaptation to specific climates and environments. The adaptive ability of particular breeds plays a role in how these animals have developed over time. Local climate and habitat demands are key factors influencing the development of these breeds. While local climate has remained relatively constant, habitat has changed dramatically over the past 200 years. The small farm is their habitat, and small farms have dwindled over time due to socio-economic pressures. When one considers the adaptive responses of the breeds, it is important to realize that human choices and preferences are part of the pressure on them, and any adaptation not considered as a desirable trait loses value, resulting in lost usefulness for breed, and furthering its risk of extinction. For more on this topic, refer to the Fourth Grade unit on Adaptation.

Integrated Studies: Technology, Writing, Research, Math, Cultural Arts

One of the advantages of an integrated unit, such as this one on rare and endangered farm animals, is that you can "cover" many areas of the curriculum at the same time.

Within this unit students will be asked to do research using print materials and Internet sources, graph data, locate places on a world map, locate dates on a time line, write about their research/discoveries, and interview people currently involved in agriculture

While students are learning about these animals they are reading, researching, creating graphs, using maps and tables of data, learning about early explorers and settlers who brought these animals with them. Therefore, many areas of the curriculum are touched on through the unit.

Of course, you will have to revisit these areas again and again in order for them to become second nature to your students, but that is often the case when teaching young people. Using skills in context helps the students to really gain understanding of why the skill is important.

Students might also have an opportunity for some hands-on experiences by doing some of the following: carding, spinning, weaving wool; making butter or cheese; having a farmer visit the class; hatching chicks or ducklings in the classroom. Refer to previous units for further illustration of these ideas.

Science Connections: Natural systems and genetic diversity

Traditionally farms were a fairly balanced (albeit man-made) system. The animals were used for a variety of purposes: food (meat & dairy products); clothing (wool, leather); fat was used to make soap; manure was used as fertilizer; feathers for bedding; and, chickens often cleaned up the scraps and waste of other animals as well as eating insect pests. So, the small family farm was fairly self sufficient and able to sustain itself.

Many farms now raise only one or two products for market and those products are often of one breed (in the case of animals). This means that if a disease that affected that one breed of cow, for instance, were to strike, it could be devastating, especially since most of the farms that produce that same product (milk) are all raising mostly the same breed.

In the past there was much more genetic diversity on farms. On the farm, as in any ecosystem, once you lose diversity you are much more susceptible to disease. Rare breed animals are important to food security. Our current system of food production may be at risk without the genetic diversity these animals provide.


Navigating the Unit

5th - 5 E Summary
5th - Engage
5th - Explore
5th - Explain
5th - Expand
5th - Evaluate
5th - Supplement

Noah's Ark Today is property of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Copyright 2006.

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC 27312