Sentinel chickens play a very important role when it comes to disease detection and prevention. Charlotte County currently maintains 7 sentinel flocks placed at select locations around the county. A small blood sample is taken from them weekly and then prepped in our lab by spinning down the vials of blood in a centrifuge to separate out the serum.
These samples are then packaged and shipped to the Department of Health Virology Lab in Tampa to be tested for the presence of antibodies to West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. If any of these chickens test positive, mosquito control responds by immediately spraying the corresponding area that the positive chicken is located in. This helps to ensure that humans won't become infected by the same pool of disease carrying mosquitoes that infected the chicken.
Once a chicken tests positive and the test is confirmed, she gets to retire from the program and is immediately replaced by a new chicken from our home flock of "sterile" chickens. The birds that test positive do not pose a threat to humans or animals, as they are known as a "dead end host" and the virus can no longer be passed on. We donate our retired chickens to local farms and 4-H groups.
Around February, a brand new batch of day-old chicks are ordered and raised inside the main coop which is fully screened to prevent mosquito access. When they are big enough, usually late spring to early summer, fresh flocks are taken and placed out around the county to become our new sentinel chickens of the season.
For homeowners interested in becoming a potential chicken cooperator, or chicken host, for our program, please call 941.764.4370 and leave a message with your name, address, phone number, and reason for calling. We will put you on a waiting list and contact you as soon as there is an opening. (Please note, the waiting list is often long depending on the area you are located in and it may be years before you are called upon.)