Episode 028 - National Meat Judging Champion, Jake Bagby

Join as National Meat Judging Champion Jake Bagby shares about his time on the Texas Tech University Meat Judging team and how that’s set him up for success in the future.

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Podcast Transcript

Taylor McAdams: You're listening to the Kick Your Boots Up Podcast, where we swap stories of the West. Whether you're just waking up or getting in for the day, come on in and kick your boots up. Thanks for listening to the Kick Your Boots Up podcast. Joining us today is truly an iconic individual. And it has a very unique story as well. So this is Jake Bagby. He's from Texas, Texas Tech University. Currently, he's attending to get his master's in meat science. The opportunities are endless. And the list goes on and on about this guy. I've just got to start off with, and in 2021 Jake was in the top two finishers in the alternative division and the National Championship meat judging contest. And so that is truly incredible. He's a four consecutive-time national champion Texas Tech meat judging team member. He is the co-owner of Bagby Livestock, and he has a Bachelor of Science at Texas Tech as well. So the man wears many hats. I'm sure. Every single day It looks like a new day, especially He now gets to serve as a TA. When now, whenever he's working on his master's at Texas Tech. So, Jake, we're just so honored that you took the time to sit down with us and talk about your story a little bit. Thanks for being on the Kick Your Boots Up podcast.

Jake Bagby: Oh, thank you for having me. Super excited to be here. 

Taylor McAdams: Oh, without a doubt, and I'm genuinely so interested in this story growing up and doing FFA and four h. I, we did one time in our FFA class, we got to try to be meat judgers. And I learned very quickly that I have no clue what I'm doing. And so I can't wait for you to enlighten the rest of the world when it comes to picking out steaks. I betcha we're about to all learn a little bit. But before we do and dive into that, we can't help but be curious about how you got started in meat judging and and how you grew up and all of that. So tell us a little bit about your background before we dive into the the meat of it all?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, so I actually was right there with you I growing up at a very young age, I would have never foreseen myself, working in the meat industry, doing a meat judging competition that I didn't even know existed, or let alone really doing anything with meat besides eating it. And I would have told you whenever I was in the fourth grade that I was going to be a star athlete or working for a company like ESPN. But that quickly changed. I grew up in agriculture bass family, for many generations, including my parents, who both work in agricultural-related companies as well as raising animals. But in the seventh grade, when I was showing livestock, showing goats, and showing sheep, my ag teacher came to me, and she said, Hey, I have this really neat opportunity for you that I would love for you to be a part of because we're really good at it. And I think that you would be good at it. And we want you to be a part of the team. And so as a junior FFA member, I was pretty pretty hesitant at first, but went ahead and decided to join. And from the seventh grade to my senior year of high school, I never stopped doing it through the FFA and Four H, and I absolutely loved it. And so that was kind of my spark. And I quickly decided that's what I wanted to pursue my career in when pursuing school at Texas Tech.

Taylor McAdams: I love that. And I felt like I was living your story. The more I heard you talk about that, because that's exactly right. We love our ag teachers for that reason, they reach out, they build you up, they give you the confidence. They give you the tools, they help train you to get you to where you are and you need to go. And one thing that I loved watching are my personally with our FFA chapter watching our meat judges do is they were these white coats, and they got into these freezers, and they looked at all the carcasses tell us out for the friends that are out there that are listening that don't really know what meat judging is talk about that and the fun experience there because it is it's different.

Jake Bagby: Yes, yeah, it definitely is different. You go up to someone that you see it in public and somehow meet judging gets brought up, and they asked you what you're doing. And it's really hard for him to understand unless they've got some sort of background in it. But basically, me judging is very applicable to our industry, and to what we're looking for in our meat products. Whenever we're choosing out stuff to put into the retail or in food service or anything like that. So basically, we're judging classes, of cuts and of carcasses all based on certain specifications of what you want and what you're looking for in terms of like that thickness and muscling and quality like beef. We're in your steak, you're looking for our prime steak. We're doing the same thing, and we're judging them in meat judging. We're looking for the highest quality, best-looking steak that there is a ribeye. And so that's One of the components, and then we actually write reasons about six of those classes that we're judging. So we get those classes, we judge them. And then we're basically writing down on a piece of paper, why we placed it the way we did, and for what reasons, with all these different places that we looked at, for all the different factors. So a lot goes down into that. And that's probably one of the the major parts of what we're doing. But we're also looking at yielding quality grading, which is very applicable also to the industry, because it happens every day in a beef processing plant around the world. Cattle are being graded based on the amount of quality grade or marbling that they have. And they're also being given a yield score based on the amount of fat and the amount of muscle that they have. And so we're doing the same thing, we're looking at that we're grading them, we're looking at them, and we're predicting that quality and yield grade based on the evaluation of just looking at it. Whereas in the plant, a camera's doing it for them, for the most part went along with the USDA grater. So it's something that we get to do, but it also relates very much to the industry. And those are just some, some small parts, there's a lot more that goes into it as well, but very applicable the way you would see in the world world.

Taylor McAdams: And Jake, that thank you for explaining that. That's very well said That's exactly my perception of it as well, just doing it the one time and ag class. But there's a lot of people out there anyone that loves to eat is involved in agriculture, because the next time you go to even just somewhere let's a chain Texas Roadhouse, for example. You order a steak, and you think that's all there is to it. And so they don't know, people out there don't actually get to understand that there's people like you that are putting the quality first. And so shout out to you for doing that. But along those lines, I have a million questions. And I know we don't have time to answer all of them. But one of the questions I am genuinely curious about as and all your travels and all your preparation for the national competition, all of it. Have you gotten to go see facility processing facilities across the United States? And if so, tell us about your experience there.

Jake Bagby: Yeah, absolutely. So, um, honestly, if someone were to ask me like, what one of my favorite things about me judging was our being in the meat industry being a part of meat science field, that would probably be one of my favorites. Since my time at Texas Tech, and since I started as a freshman, all the way until now, in my graduate studies, I have had a ton of opportunities to go and see places all across America. This is because all of our contests that we participate in and that are held, we get to do it inside of a processing facility. Or like that could be a large beef processing facility, or it could just be a little small university facility or small packing plant. You name it. We do our contests in there. And so that's one way that we're able to expose ourselves. But through the university, we also like to be able to do tours and industry tours to be able to expose all of our team members, whether they're a meat science major or not. Because we cover the spectrum. We have meat science majors on our team, but we also have ag comm we have non ag majors. Like we we've got a lot of them but they're still being able to get exposed to the meat industry and and see everything that they that goes from the farm to the table. And so we did tours at feedlots, feed yards, multiple specie packing plants. So we've looked at beef, we've looked at pork, we've looked at like small facilities been a lot of university meat labs, so it's really cool to see. And then having internship opportunities is huge. Because I was able to have one this past summer, were with Tyson Foods. And during that time, I was able to expose myself to over a dozen plant tours and industry tours, which allowed me and then everyone else to when we do these tours, to have build so many connections and relationships for the future whenever we're looking for a job. So it's really neat and a really cool experience.

Taylor McAdams: Yes, ultimately, that's the goal, right is to be able to come out of this with some sort of job and industry knowledge and so good for you for taking all those opportunities. And then before we move on to our next segment, the other thing that stood out to me was you mentioned reasons and that takes me back as well to livestock judging and we would say, you know, there was like a standard way that you talked there would be like We placed this class of Margot steers for 312. And then you would explain why. Tell us a little bit about the reasons because a lot of people have a huge fear of public speaking. And so being able to even just get up in front of one person one on one and explain why and defend why is a big challenge. So talk to us through talk about the reasons aspect of meat judging.

Jake Bagby: Yeah, absolutely. So the reasons aspect is actually a little different than your standard livestock judging. Even wolf judging. So we actually rather than having oral reasons, where kids have to come in and ask to speak their set of reasons to a judge or anything like that, they're actually all written. And so how we do it, is, after you judge the classes in the morning, you actually go in and you have 15 minutes on each set of reasons. And you're able to use your note card that you would written on their class and all that. And we kind of have a, like a set format and structure for like what we want, in our reason sets, but also, the students have capability of getting out there exploring a little bit and writing what they want. Um, but we just make sure that there's that structure. So no one's like, getting way out there or anything. But, um, but yeah, they're actually written. And so it's a little different than livestock judging. And like I said, even more judging, which is something that students can do their freshman year of college or throughout. And so it definitely, I would say is, is pretty neat, because there are students that have that public speaking, like kind of nervousness inside of them. And I completely understand it's, it's hard to speak in front of people, let alone about something that you're having to like, memorize from a couple minutes ago. But it, it definitely makes it a little bit easier and a little more calmer, but it's still pretty nerve wracking, trying to get it finished and get it done, and having to do five sets of it. So.

Taylor McAdams: Without a doubt, and I learned something there too. I didn't know that meat judging reasons were not oral, they were just written. So that's awesome. Shout out to you for them for being willing to be on the podcast and do the public speaking aspect. And as we get move, moving forward into more of your national championship questions that while that is so cool, first of all, I'm just genuinely curious what was it like to be a part of a national champion team, and then explain the national championship, what it means and the value there?

Jake Bagby: Oh, it's, it's huge. It means so much for each individual, but also just the team as a whole, no matter who it is, and we winning the national championship was a dream come true. I can live completely back to that moment, we were sitting in our banquet hall and get our names called out as the first place team and half of our team or more, we're probably crying and like, just beyond the moon, because we had, we had put so much work and effort into getting to that point. And what's crazy too, is like for, for me, judging. It's not like, like kind of some sports where it's kind of like a playoff setting, and you have to win certain contests and then get to the national championship. So you're actually competing all throughout the year. And then everyone has at the last contest, and in every one has a shot. So it's all all up base to the last contest for you to be able to win the national championship. And so there's a there's a lot of pressure, but also the one thing that we instill, and that we want to know whenever we're doing this as when we walk into the meat cooler every day when we walk into practice, the goal in mind is not to win a national championship. A goal in mind is to have fun and to get to learn more about each other, and be a family, basically. And that is what we instill in what we want each person to know. But then, if we win a national championship, it just makes it that much better. And so, but it was, it was a moment unlike any other that I have experienced. And I'm sure all of my teammates could say the same thing and follow that. But definitely amazing thing to be a part of, and it's cool to be a part of every time a national championship comes around at Texas Tech. Whether you're a part of the team or not, because you feel like you already are just be by being alumni or being a part of the university. So yeah.

Taylor McAdams: And you mentioned how surreal it is and the emotions that go along with it all and the emotions only stem from the hard work that you did before putting in the time you mentioned you go in every single day for practice, tell Talk to us a little bit more about that. How hard did you guys have to work every single day to win?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, so whenever you talked about meat judging practice and talking about how much work you put in, I would say this is probably the part where people might start turning their heads away when they're thinking about whether they want to meet judge or not. But in reality, it's all completely worth it, because it's making you better. Like I said, it's like a family. On my team, we had 21 people. So that was 21 of my closest friends that I was able to be with mostly every day. So but in terms of putting in work in terms of putting in practice, it does take a lot. So you actually start in the fall. So that that following or that that fall before the national championship, you go ahead and start, and you just kind of practice. And we have a class that's made into our degree programs for animal science, but also anyone can take it that wants to be on a meat judging team, to where we can practice throughout the week in it's like a, just a part of the class schedule. And we also utilize a lot of Saturdays to practice because that's a day where not much is going on. Hopefully, we're not missing any football games that at that point in time, but but we do make sure we practice on those days. And because people have lives and there's things going on, we actually start at 4am. And we hop into the cooler at 4am. And we practice so however long we need to. And then that doesn't stop for the next year, it's pretty much going and traveling to plants. We have a specific plant that's about an hour and a half from Lubbock that we go and practice at Cargill. But we go there we go to different facilities, we stay at our meat lab, since we have available product to practice on. And we do it every week, most Saturdays very early. So but it's worth it, it gets the practice in, and it makes you ready for every single contest and for everything that may come at you.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yeah. And I can tell it's all paying off for sure that that's the kicker there. I love that you said that. And earlier I mentioned in 2021, you are in the top two finishers. And so I've just got to ask you like how did that feel to be not only the national championship team be a member of that, but then to be one of the top two in the world?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, it was, it was pretty awesome. It was very exciting. And I was I was beyond blessed to be a part of that. And I knew, personally had been putting in a lot of effort and wanted to be at a certain spot like, obviously as a team, but I wanted to be able to do my part as well and put that into our efforts and try and do what I could to be to be my best. And so it obviously paid off. I was second in the alternate division. And so just for reference, and just for the sake of everyone knowing like what I mean, my alternate division is we actually have a normal division. And only four people actually on a collegiate team can what we say market card. And so there'll be the actual scores that count towards, like, the score of us winning. But, and like I said, you heard me say earlier, we had 21 people on our team, you're like, Well, where are the other 17 people going. So we actually go into another division called the alternate division, which is made up honestly of about the same amount of people as the other one, just because so many teams have so many people. But the thing is, and the thing, the way we looked at it is like, like we could have taken any four people at any point in time. And those would have been our people and we would have counted on them. It was a team effort, whether you were on the marketing team or not. And we all put something into it. And so we stood up and cheered for anybody that called out did not matter what division they were in what they did, like, it didn't matter. We were trying to win as a team. And we knew that we could do that with any four individuals any given day. And so it didn't matter which part your division you were in. All that matters is we were a team. So.

Taylor McAdams: That is so inspiring. The team aspect is huge, but then even hearing you dive a little bit deeper into it. That is so cool. That you guys truly do experience the highs and the lows together. That's something that's very rare. You see it a lot in like sports and things like that, but to have you guys be able to do it individually as people to ultimately then help the team that's really incredible, and I can't help it i Ask too. I mean, we mentioned briefly earlier that eventually, you're going to want a job, you know, after your TA after you get a master's degree. So, how has all of this success? You know, top two in the alternate division? How has this all helped you get where you're going in the future or even are today?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, so it's helped a lot like with, like, being a part of these teams and stuff. And, and the success that's that's given through it, and has been earned through it, I will definitely say like, it helps a lot with, first of all, just being on a resume. Because a lot of the people that are in the industry and are hiring people right now, for different jobs, they've been through it themselves. And they know how much work and effort it takes to be a part of one of those teams, you have to communicate, you have to have time management skills, you have to work with a team. And so they know what it takes to be successful in those programs. And to do that, and so if they say, Oh, he was a part of the 2021, National Champion, meat judging team, like they're going to think something and they're, they're not going to hesitate really, because they they know that I've been through that program before and been a part of that. But also just everything that I have learned from those experiences have prepared me and made me ready to take on any job within the meat industry that might be available for me. So.

Taylor McAdams: That's awesome. And the future is bright, and the opportunities are endless. So I wish you the very best there. And with Dustin being a Fort Worth based company. We're originally at Texas, you know, El Paso, Texas. We I can't help but ask what it's like being able to give back, you know, you go to Texas Tech. And now that you're a teacher's assistant, I can't, I can't help but ask what it's like being able to give back and pour into the kids and help them prepare for their national championship team.

Jake Bagby: Yeah, it's, it's honestly incredible. I, it's one of my favorite things. To be quite honest, I, I've always loved teaching, I've always loved coaching. And those opportunities are always some that have been some of my favorites. And like you said, like giving back like I have been given now the opportunity to be the coach of the next year's Texas Tech meat judging team. And so doing that, and being able to coach these kids, starting in a couple of weeks, and getting them ready for all the contests, just like our coaches did, is extremely exciting. But even more so than that. Just like getting to know them, and getting to be with them on a daily basis, all growing more and more with each other. Because obviously, we have a lot of fun when it comes to competing and contests traveling across the country. But some of the best memories that we make are here in Lubbock, we'll just get together, we'll go hang out as a group at a house, we'll go hang out somewhere in Lubbock, no matter what it is, we get to grow closer. And I've said it before already in here. But we have that family atmosphere. And I feel like that makes Texas Tech, one of the greatest universities is that family atmosphere that you get to experience. And so I'm ready to experience that with the new team, the new kids, I'll be coaching and teaching. And hopefully, we can all help each other change our own lives a little bit through the process.

Taylor McAdams: And I think you will and being an Okie at heart, I kind of have a hard time saying this. But I really do believe that Texas Tech University has a really good thing going especially in the meet science department. I mean, wow, the opportunities there are incredible. And before we go, we've got to be able to cheer you on in your future and the the way that you're going to do in your future. So when you're done with school, the you walk again across the stage with being a master's degree recipient. What's next for you?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, so I'm thinking that once that time comes later next year, I'll definitely probably start pursuing and looking at jobs and looking at a future career. And kind of what I've learned through my experience at Texas Tech and my internships that I've done, as well as being exposed through multiple different programs, to different companies across the United States. I've kind of settled in on kind of one certain thing in the industry that I want to do, and that's research and development. So basically what that looks like is being a part of a company who does r&d And basically we will create new food products, we will figure out ways to better improve food products, or food safety. And so, for example, when I was with Tyson, I got to work on tons of different products like chicken products, beef products, pork products. And I had my own project where I was able to actually come up with a product that would eventually be in stores like Walmart, and Sam's. And so that was super exciting to me. I loved it was an amazing opportunity, amazing internship program. And I could foresee myself doing something like that again, so, but you never know, things can change in the next year and a half. But for now, that is definitely where I see myself and we'll be graduating in December of 2024. So it's seems like a little bit of ways, but I know it's gonna come really fast. So, but I'm looking forward to everything that the future has in store for me.

Taylor McAdams: Yes, well, everyone here at Justin, no matter what our favorite sports team is, we are definitely cheering you on. That is so cool. Your story is incredible. Thank you for enlightening all of us on the different, you know, parts of your aspect of your job and even meat judging in general, I think there's a lot of information out there for everyone who's curious to know more about. So I wish you the best of luck in everything you do. And if anyone wants to reach out and ask you more questions or get more involved with Texas Tech, university Meat Science, where can we find you?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, so website

Taylor McAdams: Anything?

Jake Bagby: Yeah, you can find me on social media, Instagram, Facebook. I'm on there. Jake Bagby. And then also, we have a departmental web page through Texas Tech, animal and Food Sciences has grabbed all the grad students on there and you can find my name, and my email and my phone number will be on there. So more than happy for anyone that sees this to reach out. And we want to grow our family at Texas Tech more and more as we can use every day. So please feel free to reach out with any questions or any comments that you may have.

Taylor McAdams: Jake, you are a great advocate. Thank you for everything you do in the industry. And again, good luck in the future.

Jake Bagby: Thank you so much, Taylor. Very, very happy and excited to be here and enjoyed it a lot.

Taylor McAdams: Thanks for joining us on Kick Your Boots Up. I'm your host Taylor McAdams and we can't wait to share the next story of the West. Until then, feel free to like subscribe and leave us a review. Follow us on social media at Justin Boots to keep up with our next episode. And we'll see you the next time you kick your boots up.