COLUMBUS, Ohio — “We’re going to be as brutally honest with you as we can today.”
That’s how Clint and Cody Rodabaugh of Rodabaugh Brothers Meats started their recent presentation to students in the Branded Meat Products class at The Ohio State University.
It was music to the ears of instructors Steve Moeller and Tom Katen.
Moeller, professor of animal sciences, and Katen, guest lecturer and senior research scientist at Cargill Meat Solutions, lead the class, designed to be a capstone course for meat science students and a culminating experience for other students in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
“There’s a myriad of experience in this classroom, from farm kids to city kids, from students who have limited exposure to a live animal to those who have a good understanding of a processed meat product,” Moeller said. “They all have a little different focus on where they want to be, and that’s good.”
As part of the 14-week class, the Rodabaughs and other meat companies, small and large, meet with students to discuss the ins and outs of their businesses. Students work in teams to identify issues and prepare case studies related to a niche market for each business.
The students also create their own meat-based food products, potentially to compete at the Reciprocal Meat Conference, the spring annual meeting of the American Meat Science Association, in Nebraska.
The class is just one of the capstone courses offered to students in every major in the college.
“These classes are geared to help students integrate everything they learned in the courses that they have taken over the years to help them solve problems, to work in teams, and to view things in a holistic way,” said Linda Martin, associate dean of academic affairs. “Many disciplines — engineering programs, for example — have had capstone types of courses for a long time, but now it’s not unusual for many types of programs to offer them.
“The goal is to help students start to understand how all of the courses that were part of their undergraduate experience come together in helping them be successful after they graduate.”
Brittany Janita, an animal sciences major, is experiencing just that in the Branded Meat Products class.
“In just the first few weeks of this course, I’ve already used information I learned from my intro classes, a products development class and internships I’ve had,” Janita said. “It’s really pulling it all together, and it’s showing us how you can use this information at the industry level out in the real world.”
In particular, Janita appreciated how candid the Rodabaugh brothers were with the class.
“I loved how honest they were about the challenges they face and what they want to do with their company,” she said.
The Rodabaugh brothers, both alumni of the college — Clint in 2006, Cody two years later — bought their business five years ago when both were in their mid-20s.
With seven employees, including the former owner, the Putnam County company slaughters cattle and swine for customers from western Ohio; offers custom butchering and processing; processes and smokes its own meat, including locally popular snack sticks called Ted Hots; processes deer for local hunters during deer season; and operates a small retail shop.
“Of those five main sources of income, where do you think we make the most money?” Clint Rodabaugh asked the class. After some scattered responses, he said, “To be honest, we’ve spent the last five years trying to figure that out, and we still don’t know. They’re really all intertwined.”
Since they’ve been at the helm, the brothers have upgraded equipment, boosted worker pay and responsibilities, and opened — and then closed — a second retail shop closer to the highway.
“It went three years and, basically, it broke even,” Clint Rodabaugh said. “There was a lot of overhead. We realized it was not that great of a business venture.”
The brothers also told the students that national and international events impact their business even though their entire customer base is within 40 miles.
“We’ll sell maybe 75 pounds of bacon a week for months on end, and then all of a sudden we’ll only sell 5 pounds of bacon a week,” Cody Rodabaugh said. “That’s when we find out there’s been a report on the news that bacon is bad for you. It’s amazing that people in Pandora, Ohio, a town of about 1,000 people, will quit eating something that quickly when there’s a news report like that.”
The brothers can also quickly guess what celebrity chefs are cooking on the Food Channel.
“We sell maybe 20 flank steaks a year, and then in one day four people will come in and buy one,” Clint Rodabaugh said.
In addition, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is affecting the company’s bottom line. The brothers sell beef hides from the cattle they slaughter, and Russia’s response to U.S. sanctions has driven the price of those hides down by $25 in the last six months.
“Think of that loss in terms of about 1,500 beef hides a year,” Cody Rodabaugh said.
Moeller said his biggest goal for the class is to impress upon students the benefits of hard work and introduce them to the wide variety of roles they can play in the industry.
“We’re bringing in companies that were built from the ground up,” Moeller said. “These are companies that were developed over time and that serve a customer base that keeps returning. The capstone experience really exposes them to the variation that’s out there — in this case, in the meat industry in Ohio — helps them imagine how they can fit into it, and at the same time helps them create a new product and take it through all of the development stages while keeping the end customer in mind.”
Martin said that during the quarter-to-semester transition, which took full effect in August 2012, the college “universally embraced that this capstone concept was important in the education of our undergraduate students.”
And Steve Neal, who joined the college’s administration as assistant dean of academic affairs in 2014, believes it’s a worthwhile approach.
“When I was in college, I didn’t get anything like this,” Neal said. “You have these pieces of information from this course and that course. The purpose of the capstone is to get you to think about how you can use information from different components of the curriculum to address complex problems.
“Students get to see what a real-world example would be and think about, as they enter the workforce, what problems and issues they will be facing.”
For more information on the college’s academic programs, see cfaes.osu.edu/students.
Clint and Cory Rodabaugh