This study represents one of the first attempts to determine the total farm-level costs of biosecurity during a disease-free period. Our results indicate that the average cost of biosecurity is some 3.55 eurocent per bird for broiler producers (0.10 eurocent per bird per rearing day) and 75.7 eurocent per bird for hatching egg producers (0.27 eurocent per bird per rearing day). For a batch of 75,000 broilers, the total cost would be €2,700. This represents some two per cent of the total production costs and is similar in magnitude to the cost of logistics (loading and transportation) (unpublished information). The results also indicate that the work time devoted to biosecurity represents some 8% of the total work time on broiler farms and about 5% on broiler breeder farms. The costs are in the same range as the cost of vaccines and other veterinary services in England, where they were found to amount to 1.2% of total expenses and to 1.4 pence (about 1.9 eurocent) per bird . The results are also qualitatively in line with those of studies undertaken on cows and pigs in the United States, where in all cases it was found that the cost of medication and biologics were the primary constituents of the disease prevention costs [15–17].
The higher cost of biosecurity per bird for the hatching egg producers is logical, since the birds spend a much longer period of time in the production facilities. However, also the cost per bird per rearing day was about three times higher for the hatching egg producers. This may suggest that the birds are more valuable to the producer and hence worth investing more. We have not compared the costs of biosecurity to the income generated by the birds in this paper. Also the higher amount of traffic in hatching egg production may explain the higher cost.
Some basic conclusions can be drawn from the regression results. First of all, regression 1 (Table 4) suggests that the total costs per bird are dependent on the annual number of birds. The sign of the coefficient is also as expected: the higher the number of birds, the lower the cost per bird. In other words, larger units incur lower costs of preventive biosecurity per bird. Second, regressions 2 and 3 reveal that this impact is primarily due to decreasing labour costs rather than direct monetary costs. Larger farms seem to utilise less labour per bird for biosecurity actions. The magnitude of the impact is such that one thousand more birds annually decrease the costs by 0.00235 eurocent. In other words, having about 425,000 more birds annually decreases the costs by one eurocent per bird (about 28%). The impact of the increased unit size on costs per bird was particularly strong in Category 14 (inspections and control).
Furthermore, it appears that the impact of processor B cannot be distinguished from that of processor C, but the farms associated with processor A (the reference level) have an approximately one eurocent lower cost of preventive biosecurity than the farms associated with the other two processors. This effect was maintained even when new variables (such as bird density) were included in the model. When examined categorically, the impact was particularly strong in Categories 2 (preventive medication), 3 (pest control) and 6 (additional cleaning). Whether this is due to more cost-effective actions, less stringent requirements of the classified production contracts or different disease pressure cannot be ascertained with this study, as we have no information on the disease history of the farms. However, since poultry production in Finland is to a large extent controlled by the processors, it is clear that the attitudes, guidelines and instructions given by the processor have an important impact at the farm level.
Female producers (24% in the sample) were also found to invest more in biosecurity. It has been observed in many studies that women are more sensitive towards risks in general [23, 24] and, hence, as producers, they may also be more willing to invest in reducing the risks. The impact of a female owner was particularly visible in Categories 3 (pest control), 5 (education), 8 (construction plan, investment and subsidies) and 9 (health monitoring programmes). Unfortunately, no further background information on the producers was available.
In the dataset, bird density varied from 19 to 24 birds per m2. When the impact of bird density on the costs was examined, it was found that bird density was positively related to the labour costs of biosecurity. This suggests that when the bird density is higher, greater labour resources need to be invested in their health and welfare and hence disease prevention. This may be due, for instance, to the fact that the potential disease pressure is higher when the bird density is high.
In the analysis, the use of coccidiostats was found to have the largest cost variance between the producers, contributing to direct costs. The reason for this remains unclear, as the separate regressions undertaken for this cost component could not reliably relate it to any of the explanatory factors. The answer may have to do with the disease history of the farm, but that information was not available for this study.
The data for this study were collected by semi-structured interviews, which were all carried out by the same person in order to ensure inter-farm comparability. We believe that personal interviews, despite being time-consuming, are the best way to gather relatively complex data on disease prevention in a comparable way. A written questionnaire could result in more responses and thus more data to test, but the quality of the data would suffer, hence resulting in problems with statistical testing. As a result of this type of data acquisition, the amount of data collected cannot be extremely large. However, our dataset covers about 10% of Finnish producers for both production types (broiler and hatching egg). We also believe that the quality of the data more than compensates for the modest quantity.
Although the main objective in the current study was to examine the magnitude and constituents of preventive biosecurity at the level of poultry production farms, we also had some methodological issues in mind. In the future, the current methodology and the questionnaire could be applied: 1) to investigate the costs at other points in the poultry production chain as well as to determine how much the chain as a whole is investing in biosecurity and 2) to explore the costs for different types of animal production chain, including the production of pork and beef. However, for application in other countries, some modifications need to be made. Poultry production legislation and practices vary somewhat within the EU, and national regulations may differ. Hence, the questionnaire used in this study may require some revision to be applicable elsewhere.
The average size of the farms in the sample is somewhat larger than the average size of all broiler farms in Finland. However, as the trend is towards increasing farm sizes, we believe that the results are reasonably close to the current situation and are representative of the situation which we will shortly be facing. The results also suggest that if increasing farm sizes also lead to increased bird density, then greater resources will need to be invested in preventive biosecurity.
The obvious next question is whether the incurred costs effectively prevent the introduction of diseases. Furthermore, we need to know how the unit size affects the optimal level of investment on a per bird basis on preventive biosecurity. These questions cannot be answered by the results presented here. However, identifying the costs associated with preventive biosecurity is a necessary first step in understanding that biosecurity is not a free lunch.