Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award

Recognizing the critical roles of feedyard employees, the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame in 2010 initiated the Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award, naming the award for its inaugural recipient, the late Arturo Armendariz, who spent nearly three decades as a valued employee at Poky Feeders in Kansas. Joe Morgan, general manager of Poky Feeders, called Armendariz the ultimate employee and praised his hard work and dedication to the feedyard. Over his years at Poky Feeders, Armendariz helped the business grow from 17,000 head of cattle to 63,000. Under his skillful management, Poky Feeders’ mill output reached 2 million pounds per day. Armendariz’ role as devoted employee, family man, friend and long-time member of the beef industry serves as inspiration for this prestigious award. Each year at its annual banquet, the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame names a recipient of the Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award, honoring men and women, nominated by their employers, who dedicate their careers to the cattle-feeding industry.

Over 32 years of delivering feed to cattle, Chico Becerra’s loyalty, work ethic and attitude leave lasting impressions.

Chico Becerra: Defining dedicationFirst-time visitors to a modern feedyard probably first notice the cattle — lots of cattle. Next they might notice the machinery — the rumbling, computer-controlled feedmill supplied by immense bins of grain and other feeds, trucks delivering grain to the yard, tractors loading other trucks and scraping pens, feed trucks pouring their mixed rations into bunks that stretch to the horizon.

But as the visitors take a closer look, beyond the cattle and machines, they’ll see the people who make the operation work. They’ll realize the health, welfare and performance of cattle, and ultimately the success of the business, depend on people performing a variety of tasks the right way, at the right time, every time.

In some businesses, employees who procrastinate or perform inconsistently are an inconvenience. In a feedyard, they’re a potential disaster. As the day-to-day demands of feedyard work challenge employee morale, a positive attitude becomes a key asset. And when an employee’s positive attitude and strong work ethic help inspire the rest of the crew, everyone benefits.

That is the legacy of Erasmo “Chico” Becerra, winner of the 2011 Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award through the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame. Becerra recently retired from his long career as a feed-truck operator at Hale Center Feedyard, a Cactus Feeders Inc. facility near Hale Center, Texas.

Becerra emigrated from Mexico to the United States in 1972 and, after a time living in Colorado and Utah, pursued his interest in cattle by signing on to drive a feed truck at a Kansas feedyard in 1979. After six years, he moved to Texas to work at another feedyard, and in 1990 accepted a job at the Hale Center facility, then under different ownership.

“I’ve been driving feed trucks the whole time,” Becerra says, noting that he’s seen enormous changes to the feeding process over the years. Today’s feed trucks, equipped with GPS units and computers linked to the mill and front office, allow improved precision for delivering the right quantity of the right ration to the right pen and, he says, reduce the chance of making a mistake.

Becerra always held a strong interest in the welfare of the cattle he fed and notes that feed-truck drivers are on the front lines for observing their behavior. “We see the cattle every day,” he says, adding that he routinely reported anomalies such as excess feed left in bunks, empty water troughs, cattle showing signs of illness or other problems. One of the most satisfying aspects of the job, he says, was to see that cattle were performing well. “It makes me feel good to know we’re doing things right.”
  
Becerra believes feedyard performance requires a team approach, with managers and crew members working together and helping one another out. “We all watched out for each other,” he says. Everyone pitched in to repair damaged equipment quickly and keep the feedyard running smoothly.

When Becerra retired in early May, he was surprised by how much he missed the team atmosphere and camaraderie at the feedyard. For several days, he experienced a sense of loss and grief, saying it felt “almost like losing a family member.” Since then he has become more comfortable with retirement, finding other ways to keep busy, spending time with family and, of course, occasionally visiting his friends at the feedyard.

That sense of family among the feedyard staff comes as no accident, says Hale Center’s general manager Kevin Kuriyama. Cactus Feeders is an employee-owned company, he notes, and “we refer to the staff as associates rather than employees. I remind them we spend more of our waking hours with each other than we do with our actual families,” he says, stressing the importance of mutual respect and support. “Managers can provide direction, but we need people to carry it out.”

Becerra fully embraced the role of associate and company part-owner during his years at the feedayrd, Kuriyama says. “He does things right, every time, and most importantly, when no one’s looking.” That positive attitude and strong work ethic played an important role in the feedyard’s success since Kuriyama came in as manager in 1997. “When I came out here, there were a lot of employees who had gone through several changes in ownership and a great deal of turmoil here at work,” Kuriyama wrote in his letter nominating Becerra for the award. “As we struggled and strove to rebuild this place, I made a pledge that we would rebuild Hale Center Feedyard into a place where we can once again enjoy our work and be proud of what we accomplish. Chico was one of the very few who took that to heart. He’s a ‘stayer,’ a ‘committer,’ whose handshake means something.”

Kuriyama says Becerra is excited to be selected for the Distinguished Service Award, with that excitement shared by all the feedyard’s staff, but he remains humble. “He’s quick to give respect to others, but never demands it,” he says. “He’s much, much more than a feed-truck driver, and more than an employee. He’s a good man and a good friend.”