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‘The smell is putrid death’: They had a nice place in the country – until hundreds of thousands of chickens moved in next door

Sanderson Farms, which is expanding throughout Texas, says their chicken growers follow Texas air quality rules, best practices

Tanya Eiserer, Mark Smith

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Published: 7:00 PM CDT May 5, 2022
Updated: 10:43 PM CDT May 6, 2022

On their 600-acre East Texas ranch near Tyler, Larry and Sandra James believed they were creating paradise.

Sandra, a retired professor and business school dean, and Larry, a retired telecom CEO, enjoyed their herd of rescued horses, and doted on their longhorns. Their favorite is a longhorn they call Baby. 

They say their peaceful country life was upended in the spring of 2019.   

“Out of nowhere, this beautiful paradise that we were creating suddenly became enveloped in clouds of stench,” Sandra said. “You’d be walking across the dam and suddenly the air would get heavy and you’d be hit by a smell that was unlike anything we’d ever smelled before.” 

Sandra at first believed an animal had died. 

“We thought there was a dead hog, or somewhere very close to us there had to be a dead body,” she said. 

They soon learned that 16 chicken barns containing several hundred thousand birds had been built months earlier, less than a mile from their ranch. With the nauseous odors came swarms of flies.  

“They put these chicken houses in the middle of a residential community,” Larry James said. “It’s not right.” 

Credit: WFAA
Larry and Sandra James say the smells from the chicken farm permeate their property.

The chickens belonged to Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest poultry producer. The buildings and land belonged to farmers that Sanderson had contracted with to grow the chickens.  

When they’re big enough, the chickens are taken nine miles west to Sanderson’s processing plant in Lindale, just outside Tyler. 

“The smell is putrid death,” said Tony Jeffcoat, who transported chickens for Sanderson Farms in East Texas. “It's a smell that just sticks with you.”

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