In contrast to pig production, the poultry sector suffers from the lack of available information on the financial impact of common production diseases. This has been highlighted in a recent PROHEALTH study1. So-called “production diseases” may have infectious or physical basis (caused by e.g. genetic improvements in performance) and they typically become of major importance in intensified production systems. The infectious diseases are commonly caused by microorganisms present in the normal environment which are usually fairly harmless. However, deficiencies concerning housing, management and nutrition may initiate disease causing infections with such organisms, typically, E.coli, Gram-positive cocci, clostridia and coccidia. These kinds of infections may be responsible for up to half of the mortality in e.g. broiler breeders, as estimated by a parallel PROHEALTH study.     

What kind of impact is seen?

A certain level of this kind of disease is accepted as “normal” mortality and cause of production loss, but the conditions compromise animal health and welfare, reduce profitability and affect antimicrobial use. Consequently, efforts should be undertaken to minimize the occurrence of this type of disease. In this respect, data to permit rational disease management decisions is needed. However, it was shown that although much literature on poultry diseases exist (primarily with an epidemiological focus), the data often lacks a financial dimension1. As a consequence, poultry producers may be unable to implement optimal disease-prevention and treatment practices.

Data available

A systematic literature review on studies investigating financial or productivity impacts of nine production diseases was conducted. The diseases chosen were: respiratory disease (e.g. infectious bronchitis), enteric disease (coccidiosis, clostridiosis), locomotory disease (tibial dyschrondroplasia, foot-pad dermatitis, keel bone damage), reproductive (salpingoperitonitis) and other disorders (injurious feather pecking). The diseases were considered among the most important production diseases by a panel of 29 European animal scientists collaborating in the PROHEALTH project. It was observed that few studies assessed the financial impacts with most falling into the categories: 1. Surveys of disease incidence and severity. 2. Studies exploring the impact of uncontrolled diseases on production. 3. Studies exploring the efficacy of measures to control production diseases. Some publications had quantified the physical impacts of production diseases and control interventions e.g. using measures such as output volumes, mortality rates and bacterial counts. When such data were available in the literature the authors attempted to assess the financial impact of the diseases mentioned above1.

Financial analyses

Overall, coccidiosis and clostridiosis were found to be the most common production diseases in broilers whereas salpingoperitonitis was the most common disease in layers.

The financial impacts of controlled and uncontrolled infections of the production diseases were estimated by applying percentage changes in physical outputs to a standard broiler and layers financial model3,4,. This is a standardized model commonly used including revenues and production cost in order to calculate total costs and net margins. For six of the diseases there were sufficient data to undertake financial analyses, while for three there were not. In Figs 1 and 2, the darker-shaded bars represent the financial losses per bird, averaged over the flock, arising from the uncontrolled diseases and the lighter bars show the losses that would be incurred after applying the best available interventions to control them. Average losses for layers are higher than those for broilers due to a longer productive life.

Fig. 1. Financial losses due to four production diseases (controlled and uncontrolled) in broiler flocks.

Fig. 2. Financial losses due to two production diseases (controlled and uncontrolled) in laying flocks.

The authors emphasized that several possible disease costs have not been accounted for, due to lack of data. Typically, in the papers found and used for the analyses there are no data available on labour, veterinary and medicine costs, additionally carcass disposal costs, or costs associated with the disruption of normal husbandry practices resulting from diseases, such as delays to thinning and depopulation to allow extra time for broilers to reach target weight. Uneven size birds may also result in lower prizes.

For these and other reasons it was emphasized that deficiencies in the literature result in data which are difficult to use and the financial impacts estimated for the production diseases examined in the study should be treated with some caution.

Future needs

Based on the findings of the literature study, it was concluded that the requirements of the poultry industry for data on the financial impact of diseases and the focus of the poultry researchers apparently is relatively unconnected. Consequently, to meet the future research needs of the poultry industry, the focus of poultry disease research should to be re-directed. Data is needed not only concerning first-order physical impacts of production diseases but also secondary and financial impacts, which has been achieved within the pig and dairy cow diseases. Such efforts will include the collection of slaughterhouse data on the impact of diseases on product quality, and data from farm trials and laboratory-based experiments on changes to the levels of input use resulting from disease and the interventions to control them. In order to achieve this, a more inter-disciplinary approach to these questions is needed involving not only veterinarians or animal scientists, but also agricultural economists.

Fig. 3. Some examples of common production diseases

Keel bone fractures
Ascites in a broiler

1Jones, P.J. et al (2019). A review of the financial impact of production diseases in poultry production systems. Animal Production Science, 59, 1585-1597

2Ida Cecilie Naundrup Thøfner et al., (2019). Longitudinal study on causes of mortality in Danish broiler breeders. Avian Diseases,

3Sources: Agro-Business Consultants Ltd (2012); Van Horne (2014)

4Sources: Agro-Business Consultants Ltd (2012); Crane et al., (2014); Van Horne (2014)