SPECIAL REPORT: Sanderson Farms still hiring, becomes one of East Texas’ largest employers

Special Reports

Sanderson Farms is operating and still hiring in East Texas.

The company is the third largest poultry producer in the country and has hired more than a thousand people in East Texas. Sanderson Farms opened facilities costing hundreds of millions of dollars in Winona, Lindale and Mineola.

“When you bring one of these high impact employers into our local economy, it benefits everybody.”

Tom Mullins, President and CEO of the Tyler Economic Development Corporation

The company will employ around 1,600 people. Recently, Sanderson Farms updated their hourly rates from $12.20 to $13.55 an hour for line-operators. After 90 days, employees will get a $1.45 raise for a total of $15.00 per hour. The company is still hiring at the plant and expects to be in full operation by early 2020.

Sanderson Farms spent around $160 million building this processing plant in Winona.

“It provides more shoppers for the retail sector. It provides more patients for the medical sector. Sanderson Farms pays 75 percent of the medical insurance coverage for employees and their families.”

Sanderson Farms has invested 200 million dollars in infrastructure with over half going to the processing plant in Winona. At the plant, employees process and package chicken thighs, drumsticks, and tenderloins you might see at your local grocery store.

“If you go to Brookshire’s, H-E-B or any of those types of retailers in the state of Texas chances are you are buying our product,” Pic Billingsley, Director of Development and Engineering says.

RELATED: East Texans complain about foul odors from local chicken farm

The process begins at the hatchery in Lindale. Eggs are brought to the facility and 21 days later they hatch.

“Those baby chicks will go to a broiler farm and stay there for 49 days,” Billingsley says.

Joey Hooton owns a pullet farm near Mineola. He contracts with Sanderson Farms to raise their birds.

“We have three houses,” Hooton says. “They consist of 16,000 birds. 12,000 of them hens and 4,000 roosters. It is fully encapsulated and has metal outside. These houses are 48 feet wide and 558 feet long. You’ve got a lot of room and space.”

A computer controls the entire farm and is linked to Hooton’s cellphone.

“It will tell you how much water and feed to give. It even controls the temperature. They are eating about 18,000 pounds of feed a week, and they are drinking about 5,000 gallons of water a week.

“They’re just like your kids. Tough to deal with them when they are young. It’s easier when they’re older. It’s nice to see their progression.”

Joey Hooton, Hooton’s Pullet Farm

All of the feed used to raise the birds comes from a giant mill in Mineola. Raw ingredients are brought in locally and from around the country by a railroad built by Sanderson Farms.

“Right now, we are producing 4,000 tons a week,” Billingsley says. “This feed mill has the capacity to produce 8,200 tons.”

Sanderson Farms built this rail to bring raw ingredients directly to the feed mill in Mineola.

The feed is loaded into trucks and taken to East Texas farms. Once the birds are big enough, they are taken to the plant for processing.

“You go through a stunning process. You stun the birds and go through a kill process. It’s a humane way, and we found it’s the best way to do that process.”

The Winona plant can process around 1.25 million birds per week.

Water used to process the chickens is thoroughly cleaned on site. First, it goes through a covered lagoon which helps with any odors, then it is treated at a facility on site. Sanderson Farms has permission from the State of Texas to discharge the treated water into the Sabine River.

“We’re in the process of developing a land treatment system where we can take the water treated here to a spray field and have an ag crop in it to recycle the water back into the environment,” Billingsley says.

Sanderson Farms treats the water used to process birds at this facility at the plant.

According to the Tyler Economic Development Council, the company will have a $1.6 billion impact on the East Texas economy over the first 10 years of operations.

Hooton is just one of many who will benefit in more ways than one.

“I love watching the bird grow from day one to 22 weeks,” Hooton says. “It allows me to raise my family out in the country and give my kids a work ethic.”

He says he is proud to be a part of something big in East Texas by helping feed millions of people across the country.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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