The loss of more than 48 million birds to highly pathogenic avian influenza in the U.S. this spring has led many to wonder if the trend toward ever larger poultry farms will continue in the future, or will the risk of losing such large numbers of birds on one site, as many as 4.9 million layers or 350,000 tom turkeys, reverse this trend? My answer to this question for layers is no.
There are some biosecurity measures that have high capital costs which can be reduced on a per-egg basis by increasing the size of the farm. For example, movement of equipment and personnel between farms is considered to be a significant risk factor for spread of an infectious disease but, the larger the farm, the more likely crews and equipment can be dedicated to one site. Other examples would include dedicated feed trucks, perimeter fencing with gates and truck washes. Maybe you have dedicated feed milling for a complex, but you don’t put the mill anywhere near the poultry houses.
Large “self-contained” inline complexes could also be separated from other farms by large geographic distances more easily than smaller farms which might need to be located around distribution points for either outputs or inputs. There are several states in the Corn Belt which do not have anything near the density of poultry operations that Iowa and Minnesota do.
I can’t think of any biosecurity measures that are easier to implement if a farm is smaller. The more expensive the biosecurity measures are to implement, the greater the potential savings per egg from having a larger farm. The choice of how big the farm of the future will be will largely depend on how much faith individual companies have in biosecurity measures. If you were in a control zone and didn’t get avian flu on your farm, was it good biosecurity or just good luck?