The relations between genetic change in domestic livestock and infectious disease (including both its epidemiology and the animal's reaction to it) are examined. The overall picture is confusing because there are different, and seemingly unrelated, ways of considering the issue. An attempt is made to put these together into a more general framework. Four processes of particular interest are distinguished and discussed in more detail: (i) the way a population's genetic potential for immunocompetence can be changed by breeding, (ii) the way an animal's immunocompetence is influenced by that animal's production potential, in combination with the environmental resources that are available to it at a given time, (iii) the way the disease status of an animal (and a population of animals) is influenced by its immunocompetence, and (iv) the way the production level of an animal is influenced by activation of its immune system. Ultimately, all four processes influence the realised level of production.
This comes down to four questions that need to be addressed: (i) can we use genetic variation in immunocompetence in animal breeding? (ii) does a higher production potential (today's direction of breeding) have a negative impact on immunocompetence? (iii) does improved immunocompetence result in improved health? and (iv) how large is the negative impact of disease on production?