What is selective breeding and why is it still relevant today?

Is it always ethical to make changes to animals through breeding?


Your pupils will know why people have used selective breeding in the past and why it is still relevant today. The activities focus on cows and pupils will discuss ethical questions using artefacts and archive together with their own research. Looking at ‘elite’ or ‘giant’ cow paintings and the changes in cattle breeding since artificial insemination. Pupils may also consider what food choices they make themselves.

This resource works alongside our short Land of the Giants film:

Themes and topics:

  • Healthy and ethical eating
  • Sustainability and the environment
  • Economic activity
  • Evolution, inheritance and variation
  • Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to present day
  • Population and urbanisation
  • Use of natural resources

Suggested age range:

upper KS2 to KS3

Links with other activities:

These activities could be used in conjunction with the

‘What is the future of our countryside?’, ‘What was farming like before modern technology?’, ‘The impact of technological change on food production’ and the ‘Diet Detective’ resources found on our webpage, merl.reading.ac.uk/learn/schools-and-colleges/school-resources.

For an introduction to the first 12,000 years of farming, you can visit this online exhibition of objects created by The Museum of English Rural Life and Pitt Rivers Museum.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of the activities students will:

  • Have a greater knowledge of sexual reproduction and selective breeding in animals, particularly cows.
  • Know how farmers and scientists have worked for two centuries to breed animals selectively and purposefully, building on millennia of selective breeding through traditional and regional farming practice.
  • Have used The MERL collections to increase their knowledge in selective breeding.
  • Collect and use information from their visit to inform ethical questions and debates. Also, know how to make personal food choices.