How Custom Hauling Solutions Help Pick Up Chickens

Great Dane brings innovation to the next level with Smithway Chicken Transport

Establishing the Pecking Order

Most of us don’t consider how our chicken dinner ends up on the plate. All we care about is that it’s delicious and healthy. But it’s the unsung heroes like Rocky Smith, vice president of Smithway Inc., a company that created custom live chick hauling trailer solutions, who make this possible.

“Every chicken you’ve ever eaten, there’s a good chance it’s been on a Smithway trailer,” Smith says just before he rattles off household poultry brand names that your fridge is probably stocked with right now. “Even the organic guys. All of them pretty much run our equipment.”

The equipment in question is the custom live-haul chick trailer Smithway creates in partnership with Great Dane. Trailer sizes range from 24 to 54 feet, and they are completely self-contained dry vans, which can help with flexibility and safety in the event of a tractor breakdown. One of the biggest custom-built bullet points is the heating and air conditioning system that makes hauling live chicks possible.

“The biggest challenge is trying to maintain a bird when we’re hauling up to 120,000 in one load,” Smith says. “What we have to do is maintain an 80-degree temperature in the trailer. That means we have a 120,000 BTU heater sitting inside a trailer when it’s 100 degrees outside. To balance that, we have around a 15-ton refrigeration system. We run two 40kW generators, and 40kW is a big generator.”

To give you an idea of just how big that is, a 40kW generator typically has a dry weight of around 2,000 lbs. But it’s necessary for redundancy.

“You have to have a backup system for everything,” Smith says. “We have two 40kW generators on there because if one fails, then you start the other one up and go. We run twin compressor systems on our air conditioners. You have to understand, we’re hauling a live product on a 20- or 30-hour run.”

Length of live chick hauls can vary wildly—from one to three hours for typical chick loads, all the way up to nearly 50 hours of hauling for breeder loads.

“These dry vans are for day-old baby chicks. Now the meat birds, the birds you’d eat, are typically shorter hauls,” Smith explains. “The high-dollar breeder chicks—those birds go for $6 or $7 a piece as a day-old baby chick—go to customers all over the country.”

That means up to two days of hauling live animals. Being able to safely and productively deliver breeder chicks is a huge jump from the three-hour hauls that Smithway started when they received a custom hatching contract in the mid-1970s.

“We built the first trailer for ourselves and ran it for three years. We built the second trailer in 1980. We patented that and put them on the market,” Smith said. Smithway turned to Great Dane to help them do it, and it’s a relationship that’s going strong today. For example, Smith noted that Great Dane recently helped design and build a trailer that allows them to haul a forklift on the back.

“We were having issues at the rear of the trailer because of the forklift weight,” he says. “So Great Dane engineers came up with a way to put a bit of a frame behind the bogie rails. We run a frameless trailer so they designed the rear of the trailer to support the weight of the forklift hanging off the rear.”

The need for innovation is constant. Smith teased newer features that the teams are collaborating on, as well as improved features like waterproofing the floors and insulation.

“These trailers are washed constantly; it’s not like your standard dry freight trailer,” Smith says. “Great Dane is working with us on a better system to waterproof our floors, the insulation under the floors, and whatnot. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and Great Dane is always willing to work with us. They’re great to work with.”

So the next time you sit down to a stack of chicken wings, take a moment to think of Smithway and all of the innovation they pack in their Great Dane-built trailers.

Counting Chickens After They’ve Hatched

Telematics has taken over the trucking industry in the past five years, but Smithway has been tracking their dry van live-haul trailers for longer than Rocky Smith could recall.

“We’ve been into that now for many, many years,” he said. “We track the engine heat on our generators, pressures, outside temperatures, inside temperatures; we can monitor amperage on our motors—all of that is by cell communication.”

Smith explained that Great Dane-built Smithway trailers have telematics that will alert up to six people of an emergency. It works like this: A company buys a Smithway dry van live-haul trailer, and that company sets up the proper employees to receive the alerts. Smithway also keeps an eye on alerts and can step in if needed.

From equipment to telematics, Smithway is always looking for ways to innovate.