Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Queen's University, Jeffery Hall, Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada; Department of Mathematics, Siena College, Loudonville, NY, 12211, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
The industrialization of farming has had an enormous impact. To most, this impact is viewed solely in the context of productivity, but the denser living conditions and shorter rearing periods of industrial livestock farms provide pathogens with an ideal opportunity to spread and evolve. For example, the industrialization of poultry farms drove the Marek's disease virus (MDV) to evolve from a mild paralytic syndrome to a highly contagious, globally prevalent, deadly disease. Fortunately, the economic catastrophe that would occur from MDV evolution is prevented through the widespread use of live imperfect vaccines that limit disease symptoms, but fail to prevent transmission. Unfortunately, the continued rollout of such imperfect vaccines is steering MDV evolution towards even greater virulence, and the ability to evade vaccine protection. Thus, there is a need to investigate alternative economically viable control measures for their ability to inhibit MDV spread and evolution. In what follows we examine the economic viability of standard husbandry practices for their ability to inhibit the spread of both virulent MDV and very virulent MDV throughout an industrialized egg farm. To do this, we parameterize a MDV transmission model and calculate the loss in egg production due to MDV. We find that MDV strain and the cohort duration have the greatest influence on both disease burden and egg production. Additionally, our findings show that for long cohort durations, conventional cages result in the least per capita loss in egg production due to MDV infection, while Aviary systems perform best over shorter cohort durations. Finally, we find that the least per capita loss in egg production for flocks infected with the more virulent MDV strains occurs when cohort durations are sufficiently short. These results highlight the important decisions that managers will face when implementing new hen husbandry practices.