Economic implications of stopping “thinning” in broiler production

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Retail chicken prices would have to increase to compensate for halting the partial depopulation of broiler flocks.

Flock ‘pruning’ is often used in broiler production to optimize the use of farm space and raise more birds while complying with EU regulations, which set a maximum stocking density of 42 kg/square meter in a shed.

With partial depopulation, the maximum density allowed by law is reached more quickly and part of the herd is sent to slaughter earlier, while the remaining animals continue until the end of the production cycle.

Biosecurity risk
However, this practice represents a serious breach in farm biosecurity that can lead to the introduction of various pathogens into the flock, including Campylobacter spp. Partial depopulation is stressful for broilers, which lack food and water for several hours before the arrival of the trapping crew.

The trapping crew may introduce Campylobacter into the flock because the bacteria has been found on shoes, clothing and other equipment prior to use during partial depopulation. Research has found that shipping crates for broilers are often contaminated with Campylobacter.

Production consequences of thinning
Scientists from the University of Ghent, Belgium investigated whether flock depopulation can increase the risk of introduction of Campylobacter spp. to the poultry farm. In Belgium, in conventional production, approximately a quarter of the flock is slaughtered after 35 days and the remaining culled after 42 days. A simulation was run to evaluate the production implications of “thinning”.

The study compared the production of a barn performing a partial depopulation of 25% of the flock at 35 days of age before final slaughter at 42 days with a production system where no partial depopulation was performed. Differences in production costs, profit and technical performance parameters were evaluated.

Result
The model showed that stopping partial depopulation reduces production by 16 to 24%, resulting in a 14% reduction in profit per kg live weight and a 31% reduction in profit per production cycle.

To compensate for the loss of profit, it would be necessary to increase the price of meat by 3% from the starting price of 87.44 euro cents.

The researchers said it may be cost-prohibitive for current conventional broiler production to stop partial depopulation practices. Instead, the correct compromise may be to focus on external biosecurity to prevent the introduction of Campylobacter into the poultry house.

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