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April 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

No Time For Chickens - Farm Family Answers Call To Duty
Debra Davis

Teresa Sanders and her nephew, Mark, are caring for six new poultry houses while her husband, Darrin, serves his country.
When Darrin Sanders of Crenshaw County answered his calling, he made one of the greatest investments of his life. At a cost approaching nearly a million dollars, he built six, 500-foot broiler houses and began building the home that he and his wife had dreamed about.

But since that time, Sanders has answered another calling--that of Gov. Bob Riley and President George W. Bush, through his unit's activation in the Alabama Army National Guard. Sanders is a specialist in the 1670th Transportation Company of the Alabama National Guard, located in Brantley, Ala. He received his call to alert status on Feb. 8. A few days later, on Feb. 14--Valentine's Day and his son Ross' birthday--he was on the way to Fort Benning, Ga. Three days later, his first flock of chickens were delivered.

Sanders joined more than 4,000 Alabamians who have been called to active duty in the past few months. Like most, he's leaving a lot behind. But what makes him different is that in addition to leaving his wife and three children behind, he's also leaving 165,000 chickens.

Growing up in rural Alabama, Sanders knew what it meant to work hard in the family business. He, along with his four brothers and three sisters, grew up farming cattle and chickens.

"I've pretty much been involved in farming all of my life," said Sanders. "Whether it was chickens or cows, it was our way of life."

Sanders' father, the late Russell Sanders, owned and operated S and K Farms, a table egg company. It later became Sanders Egg Company.

"After I graduated from Luverne High School in 1984, I joined the National Guard unit in Luverne," Darrin said. "I stayed in for six years and got out. But I joined again in 2001 at the Brantley unit, and I have been there ever since.

"I've got mixed feelings about being activated," Darrin said before leaving Brantley. "I want to go and serve proudly, for the sake of my family and the good of my country, but at the same time I really don't want to leave my family and a new business. I won't even be here to see my first batch of biddies arrive. My brother's son (Mark Sanders) and my wife (Teresa) will raise them, along with nearly a thousand friends and family members pitching in to help."

Sanders and wife Teresa had been living with his mother and raising their three children, Danyel, 16, Kimberly 14, and Ross, 13, while waiting for their new house to be finished.

"I guess there would never be a 'good' time for him to have to go, but this is really bad timing," Teresa said. "Getting the chicken houses is something Darrin's been working on for over two years. Now that it's finally happened, he's not here to help. Everyone pitching in has made things really easy. I'm sure it's easier on us than it is on him. We're here with family and in familiar surroundings. He's waiting to be sent overseas. We're not sure where, but we know it will be Turkey or Kuwait."

The Sanderses are contract growers for Sylvest Farms Inc. Teresa, who works as a supervisor for the Department of Human Resources in Crenshaw County, normally would spend her day reviewing case files for adoptions, child abuse and neglect. Nowadays, she walks through the poultry houses checking the feeders, watering systems, temperature and the high-tech computer system that runs it all.

"I have enjoyed the change; it's kept my mind off things," Teresa said. "I was a city girl all my life until I married Darrin. I've enjoyed living in the country, but I never thought I'd be in charge of the farm. We talk to Darrin on the phone whenever we can, and we've been to see him in Columbus (Ft. Benning). His mind is a lot more at ease since Mark's here to help. Mark pretty much runs the operation. He's been a real blessing."

Mark, 20, is a student at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Opp where he studies industrial electricity. He works at the poultry houses between classes.

"I like it," Mark said of working on the poultry farm. "I'm glad to be able to help out. I don't want Uncle Darrin to have to worry. He's got enough on his mind."

Darrin said he also knows he's got lots of other family to help with things on the farm while he's gone.

"We are all behind him--especially myself and two of our brothers-in-law, because we also are in the Guard," said his brother David. "And we are not out of the woods yet either. I am in the Luverne Guard unit, which is an artillery company. We are right now in a transition, changing to a rocket artillery company, or we would probably already have gone too."

Although they don't yet know how long they will be gone or where they will go, soldiers in the 1670th have been told it could be a year, or it could be longer.

"I'm not counting the days or even the weeks," Teresa said. "I'm counting batches of chickens. They tell me we'll either have six or seven batches during a year. We've got our first batch, so by my thinking, he'll be home in five or six batches."

"Times like these make you especially thankful that you've got a large, close family," said Darrin's mother, Gloria. As the mother of five boys and three girls, her house was always busy when her children were young. She said she's thankful now that they have each other.

"It will all get done somehow," she said of the work on the farm and the new house Darrin and Teresa are building. "The boys have all promised to make sure the work on the house is done so that Teresa and the children can get moved in.

"All the family plus lots of folks from church and in the community have all agreed to help. The first day that chicks arrived, they really had more help than they needed. But people are so good and want to help."


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