Former Student Profile: Joel Cowley

By Victoria Pilger

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo stranger to the livestock industry, Joel Cowley has been involved with livestock since his youth. His interest in livestock started as a youth 4-H member and grew throughout his college days. Now well into his professional career, Joel recently embarked on one of his most exciting livestock adventures.

In August, Cowley was named president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest livestock show and rodeo in the world. Cowley began his new duties after spending eight years as the Show’s executive director of agricultural competitions and exhibits. He will continue to work with the extensive volunteer base and staff to carry on the Show’s success.

Cowley first attended the Houston Livestock Show as an intercollegiate judging contestant in 1985, and has participated in every Show since 1988 as a judging team coach, livestock judge or employee.

As a youth 4-H member, Cowley was active in livestock projects and a member of national champion 4-H wool judging and livestock judging teams. He received a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Colorado State University, a master’s in animal science from Texas A&M and an MBA from Michigan State University.

While at Texas A&M, he coached more than 75 students from the 1989 to 1994 livestock evaluation teams as a lecturer and livestock judging team coach. These students competed with universities from across the nation and brought back dozens of trophies and banners in recognition of their hard work and livestock knowledge.

Prior to joining HLSR, Cowley worked for Certified Angus Beef LLC, as executive account manager in the international division and as assistant director of the food service division. Before joining CAB, he served as an extension beef cattle specialist at Michigan State University.

Here’s what Joel had to say about his time at Texas A&M and his current success:

Do you feel your advanced degree in animal science and your time at Texas A&M has helped you prepare for where you are today?
Without question.  With all due respect to my other alma maters and the great universities around the country, Texas A&M had, and continues to have, the finest animal science faculty in the nation.  The relationships that I developed and the lessons that I learned, both in and out of the classroom, were a tremendous springboard in my professional development.


1994 Livestock Evaluation Team
Joel Cowley, Far right

What are you currently doing and how has your passion developed for this area of work?
I currently serve as president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  My passion for the stock show industry is a direct result of the impact that the junior livestock program had upon my early development.  Having lost my father when I was eight and my mother when I was nine, my two brothers and I were adopted by our paternal grandparents.  Despite living on a fixed income, my grandfather enrolled us in 4-H and made sure that we had the opportunity to raise livestock projects and participate in livestock judging.  With the exception of home environment, nothing has had a greater impact on my personal development than my participation in these activities.

What activities did you participate in as a graduate student? What is your fondest memory?
Though I enjoyed participating in many traditions and events that are unique to Texas A&M,  the vast majority of my time was consumed with teaching class and coaching the livestock judging team.  As a result, my fondest memories are related to the relationships that I developed with students and the successes that they experienced as a result of their hard work.

Additional thoughts?
I believe that we succeed in life because other people believe in our character and our ability. I was very fortunate to earn the belief of many great people during my time at Texas A&M University.  For any students who may be reading this, I would advise them to seize the opportunity that they have to do the same.


Victoria Pilger is a junior Animal Science major with a minor in Agricultural Communications and Journalism from Bryan, Texas.

For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845-1542.

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