If you had told an 8-year-old Tar Tut ’23 that he would join a nationally recognized livestock judging team, he would have looked at you, befuddled, and asked, “What’s that?”
Despite growing up in Faribault, Minnesota, surrounded by cattle, Tut didn’t have ranching roots. The son of two immigrants from South Sudan who work at a turkey products store, he wasn’t introduced to the livestock world until fifth grade when a local nurse invited him to visit her farm. He saw her son working with his show cattle, and by the following fall, he was showing his first heifer at the Minnesota Beef Expo. His quick infatuation with showing livestock didn’t equate with judging livestock, however.
“At first, I didn’t think looking at farm animals was much fun,” Tut shared with a laugh. “But as I continued judging, I built connections, communication skills and confidence.” After competing exceptionally well his senior year, he won a trip to the National Western Stock Show in Denver and fell in love with the competition. “I was a small-town kid with no background in agriculture,” he said. “Doing well in Denver opened up my world.”
A Top Recruit
Tut’s success landed him the opportunity to judge for two years at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. His confidence and skills grew exponentially, especially in oral reasons, where judgers explain in detail why they placed a class a certain way.
Having earned National Co-Team of the Year at Butler, Tut weighed several offers to continue collegiate judging. But he didn’t just seek a successful team; he wanted somewhere that would set him up for a successful life. Texas A&M University checked both boxes.
Today, Tut and 16 other Aggies judge beef cattle, sheep and swine as part of Texas A&M’s Livestock Judging Team, which has developed a heritage rich in success for more than 100 years. Members travel across 17 states and log more than 25,000 miles for competitions annually. “We drive to every competition, even those as far away as South Dakota, and we practice judging livestock at ranches along the way,” Tut said.
Steven ’85 and Sandra Lastovica ’85, owners of Lastovica Cattle Co. in Salado, Texas, and the Milano Livestock Exchange in Milano, Texas, have previously hosted the team for practices. As a former member of the Livestock Judging Team and student of legendary animal science professor Dr. Howard Hesby, Steven uses the skills he learned while evaluating livestock to run their successful family businesses. “Being part of the team prepared me for what I do every day: making decisions and justifying them,” he shared.
After graduating from Texas A&M, the Lastovicas knew they wanted to give back to the place that shaped them. Hesby’s mentorship impacted them both, and they saw an opportunity to honor his modern-day equivalent: Dr. Chris Skaggs. “Seeing the incredible influence Dr. Skaggs has on students motivated us to start an endowment in his name that highlights what brought him to Texas A&M: the Livestock Judging Team.”
Texas A&M has won 12 National Livestock Judging Championship titles—including six since Dr. Skaggs joined the university in 1992. “Livestock judgers attend Texas A&M to learn from Dr. Skaggs,” said Dr. Chris Boleman ’96, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “In addition to teaching team members about livestock, he shows them how to be people of character.”
Going beyond teaching students how to evaluate livestock is the norm for Dr. Skaggs, who uses judging to connect with Aggies and invest in their success. He makes it a point to stay in touch with former students, many of whom rise to the top of the livestock world. “There are an astonishing number of coaches and industry professionals who have worked with Dr. Skaggs,” shared Caleb Boardman ’12, Dr. Skaggs’ former student and the current Livestock Judging Team coach. “Practically everyone in the industry can trace back their career success to him in some way.”
"This endowment will ensure that the tradition of excellence continues and that Aggies can keep perpetuating the university’s core values through livestock judging and agricultural careers.”
By establishing the Dr. Chris Skaggs Excellence Endowment in Animal Science, the Lastovica family has spearheaded an initiative to perpetuate Dr. Skaggs’ impact and influence. Through contributions from other individuals or organizations, the Department of Animal Science hopes to grow the endowment to $500,000 to support scholarships for graduate students pursuing careers in the beef cattle industry and provide financial assistance to undergraduates who are members of the Livestock Judging Team.
“The Livestock Judging Team is a springboard,” Dr. Skaggs concluded. “Students may only be on the team for one year, but the skills and knowledge they gain last a lifetime. This endowment will ensure that the tradition of excellence continues and that Aggies can keep perpetuating the university’s core values through livestock judging and agricultural careers.”
To continue the Livestock Judging Team’s tradition of success by contributing to the Dr. Chris Skaggs Excellence Endowment, contact Jansen Merrill ’18, assistant director of development, at the bottom of this page. You can also give to the endowment online by clicking on the button below.
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