Smart Chicken

Chickens raised in Nebraska under the Smart Chicken brand are housed in ventilated buildings offering temperature control and access to the outdoors.

In 2000, Nebraska businessmen Tom Peed and Kevin Siebert acquired a fledgling Nebraska chicken company and vowed to create a better chicken product for consumers – one that was healthy, tender and flavorful.

The result was Smart Chicken, a successful Nebraska business that is shaking up the way chickens are raised, handled, processed and packaged.

A Team Effort

The work of bringing chicken to consumers’ tables starts on the farm. Six Nebraska farmers grow birds for Smart Chicken, including Darell Aerts, who lives near Brainard. Along with his wife, Theresa, and their eight children, Aerts raises chickens and conventional and organic grain on his sixth-generation farm.

“We have six buildings that typically hold 184,000 birds at a time, and we cycle them out about six times per year,” Aerts says. “We’re accountable to the birds and their needs 24 hours a day.”

Chickens arrive at Aerts’ farm when they are just a few hours old, and he raises them for 50 to 55 days. They are always antibiotic-free and kept in a climate-controlled environment.

“We’re very diligent about our process of preparing the chicken houses for the arrival of baby chicks, from cleaning to the litter to preheating them in winter,” Aerts says. “We try to make their environment close to what a mother hen would provide through her body temperature. Even with all of today’s technologies, the best thing we can do is look, listen and smell – we use our senses to evaluate their environment and determine what needs done.”

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That commitment comes with being a farmer. “Agriculture is a lifestyle as much as it’s a job,” Aerts says. “Sometimes I almost want to pinch myself because I feel so lucky I get to do this.”

Each building has its own alarm system that alerts up to six different people if a chicken house becomes too hot or cold, or if the winds get high enough to cause ventilation changes in the building.

When the chickens are about 50 days old they are transported to a plant in Tecumseh, where all Smart Chicken birds are processed and chilled. The next day, the chilled chicken goes to a plant in Waverly to be packaged, loaded onto refrigerated trucks and delivered to stores. The chicken is shipped to stores that night or the next day and is always fresh, not frozen. In fact, Smart Chicken facilities don’t even have freezers.

Chick

Producing Smarter Chicken

Smart Chicken products can be found in all 50 states, but Siebert says “there is no better place to produce fresh protein than Nebraska.”

“It’s very rewarding being involved with a company committed to producing the highest quality product and doing things the right way,” he says.

Aerts agrees.

“I have seen the hard work of Smart Chicken from the beginning, and I admire the company’s commitment to success,” he says. “A lot of care goes into our process, and customers have really taken this product and embraced it. It sells itself.”

When consumers open a package of Smart Chicken in their home kitchens, they don’t see a lot of extra water. That’s because Smart Chicken air chills its products, rather than using cold water. The result is more pleasing to the eye, easier handling and, Siebert says, a better tasting chicken.

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“We thought there was room for someone in the market focused more on quality and craftsmanship, and less on maximizing volume and efficiency,” Siebert says. “We define quality as the taste and eating experience – how the product looks and how it handles.”

Siebert is proud that all the company’s growers are located in Nebraska and western Iowa.

“We consider all of them our local, trusted growers,” he says. “We wouldn’t be in business without them.”

Young chickens

Smart Chicken Farm To-Plate Steps

1. Cage-Free: Chickens roam in temperature controlled “barns” with access to feed, water and natural bedding.

2. Nutrition: Chickens are fed an all-vegetable diet.

3. Humanely Processed: Gathered by hand while calm

4. Air Chilled: A key to the tenderness of the meat and the overall safety of the product

5. Hand Cut: Breast fillets, tenders and thigh fillets are cut and trimmed by hand.

6. Visually inspected: Quality Assurance Staff inspect every piece and tray of chicken.

7. Store Visits: Company reps in every market visit stores where Smart Chicken is sold and engage with customers.

1 COMMENT

  1. I use a lot of chicken tenders and lately they have so much membrane on them. I cut the strips in chunks for soup and I can barely cut them up because of that stringy white membrane. I have to slide the meat off the white stripy membrane and then lose the nice white meat.. I haven’t had this problem until recently but the last few months they have ben the same with the white stringy strip you can’t cut through. I’m disappointed. What has changed?> The way they are cut up? Not cleaned off enough before packaged? I hope it improves.

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