Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chicken Tales! ~ An Egg-Eating Snake!

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by Rebecca Nickols

Snakes and Chickens - probably not a good combination...  However, not every snake is venomous and most snakes are not even considered a threat to you or your flock. In my state (Missouri) there are 47 different species of snakes; only five of which are venomous: the copperhead, cottonmouth and 3 different species of rattlesnakes. I have seen copperheads near my property and even though I live in a rural-wooded area, I'm not overly fearful of a snakebite. According to Jim Low (Missouri Department of Conservation), you're more likely to be struck by falling space debris than bitten by a snake in Missouri! 

The most common snakes I've encountered are gartersnakes, ring-necked snakes and black rat snakes. These are harmless snakes which are actually beneficial critters to have around. As a gardener, I appreciate the gartersnake that resides in my garden; he (or she) keeps down the population of rodents (mice, voles, rats), slugs and insects. Last spring a couple of my Buff Orpingtons' discovered my garden friend and out of curiosity they pestered him until he retreated out of their sight. It was wise of this snake to flee; chickens view small snakes as a tasty treat...

Even though most snakes are welcomed away from my coop, a snake near the coop or chicken run usually means they're eyeing their next meal: young chicks or eggs. Rat snakes are particularly fond of those fresh eggs and will go to great lengths to reach a nesting box. They can climb over runs, slide through chicken wire and squeeze through small holes.



Continue reading as chicken keeper, Anna Wight, shares her experience with an egg-eating rat snake: 

I went out to lock up the chickens tonight (like I do every evening) and to make sure water containers and feeders were topped off. The ducks were quite upset, giving me all kinds of attention. Lots of quacking and carrying on. I have a duck that's been broody, and we've been nursing a sore foot pad on her, so I've been letting her sit on some eggs so she doesn't feel like she needs to be running around the chicken yard all day on her sore foot pad. Even she was off of her nest, quacking, and was quite upset about something.

I looked over at her nest and saw a RAT SNAKE had come through the chicken wire nearly 3 feet up the side of the fence and was investigating her eggs! No wonder she was so upset!!

Since our snake issues began, I've been carrying a two-way walkie-talkie so I can get Alan's assistance as needed. This certainly called for some much needed assistance! I voiced over the radio for him to grab my camera and come to the chicken yard, that there was a snake thinking about eating a duck egg!



In just the few minutes that it took Alan to get out to the chicken yard with the camera and his headlamp, the snake had already chosen his meal and was working on swallowing it.

I never thought I'd see this in MY chicken yard!! Duck eggs aren't small, or delicate, either! They easily fill the palm of my hand, and have a VERY tough shell. We let the snake get the egg all the way swallowed, and then Alan placed a paper feed sack in front of the snake and with a long garden stake, encouraged the snake to go into the bag. At first it thought about escaping through the fence, but there's just no way it would have fit through 1 inch chicken wire; having just swallowed the duck egg. It changed its mind, and just like that, the snake was in the bag. Alan poked down the top of the bag, rolled up the top edge, and we went about the process of relocating the snake near a big open field and pond.


What we found interesting was that while the snake was working on the egg, and while the snake was in the bag while we transported it, it was shaking it's tail and mimicking the tail shake that a rattlesnake does. But this was just a rat snake ... trying to be extra scary, I guess. Believe me, it was scary enough just the way it was. What we also found interesting is that in just the few minutes that it took us to get to where we relocated the snake to, we couldn't even tell that it had swallowed that huge egg! Whoa!
-Anna Wight




Thanks Anna for sharing your experience (and photos) with the readers of Community Chickens! I think it's awesome that you had your wits about you to capture this egg-eating snake on film before you relocated him away from the coop.

To view more of Anna's homesteading adventures, visit the links below:
Sassy and Sweet (website)
Anna Wight Photography (facebook)

As for predator proofing your coop from a snake invasion, here's some advice from  Beth Sinclair, a chicken enthusiast with some first hand snake knowledge. She is a past president of the Treasure Coast Herpetological Society and has 12 years experience raising colubrids, chameleons, poison dart frogs and geckos.

Yellow, red and black rat snakes are native to much of the U.S. and are likely to be the main cause of egg loss from smaller coops, though racers would likely go for eggs as well and are more common in urban areas. Being as I was a colubrid breeder (rat snakes, king snakes and other small, non-venomous species), I know from experience that snakes can get into nearly anything - they are escape artists and can seriously flatten their little bodies. My best suggestion for keeping your coop snake proof is to use the smallest mesh available as chicken wire would allow most of these guys to get inside with ease. Rat snakes are excellent climbers and are perfectly created to climb any tree imaginable. They are truly the best rodent control you will ever see, so take into account that height won't help keep your coop safe from these critters. Keep mesh size small and they simply won't be able to enter. I have yet to find ANYTHING smell-wise, save for gasoline and kerosene, that deters snakes - and I certainly don't advise anyone to keep that around their coop! Prevention is the key for snake control...  AND if you can keep them OUT of your coop, these same snakes may help you with rodent problems. So try to let them live - once you have a problem with rats, you will never look at a snake the same again; they are Godsends. 
-Beth Sinclair


Do you have a story, photo, chicken-related tip or  project you'd like to share with our community? Email your photos, stories or links to:

RNickols@communitychickens.com

To view what else is happening at my Southwest Missouri property, visit:  The Garden-Roof Coop 

17 comments:

  1. Wow! Those are amazing shots. What an experience!

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  2. Have you tried moth balls? They work, just keep them up high and all along the walls. I had a rat snake slither in through the roof, after I encountered the snake in the coop it came at me, made me nervous for sure. But after putting all the moth balls in the coop and outside and all the way around the run, no more problems with rat snakes. I find now having a dog close by that barks at anything that moves helps also. I keep a close eye on the coop and check regular for eggs. Ellen from Georgia

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  3. Not only have I used moth balls hanging in the chicken coop, I also used kitty litter on the ground as I noticed they wouldn't cross it. In the connecting window to chicken coops I had two pieces of plastic chicken fencing on each side. seems my seven ft long rat snake was caught in the netting and couldn't get out.

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  4. I put moth balls in empty water and soda bottles that I have put holes in. That way chickens,cats and dogs are not tempted to eat the moth balls.

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  5. The problem with moth balls is that they contain a nerve toxin that can affect your chickens - and I'd be concerned about the toxin also getting into the eggs. There are many natural oils - including clove, cinnamon, garlic, and peppermint - that repel snakes. You can make a safe spray from these. And you may also want to consider planting garlic and mint all around your fowl enclosure, if it's not mobile. Edie

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    1. Thank you for pointing this out ... moth balls are quite dangerous to anyone/thing who has to smell them over time.

      Beth Sinclair

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Great shots! And an extra big thank you for spreading the word that snakes aren't bad or dangerous. I live in Texas and it breaks my heart that so many snakes are just automatically killed out ignorance and fear. Its actually fairly simple to familiarize oneself with the venomous snakes in one's area. Most of the time the snake you run into wont be a venomous one. I like that you pointed out that in your state a person's chances of getting bitten are less than the chance of getting hit by space debris!

    As a gardener I am used to the idea that some of what my garden produces can and should be shared with nature. I feel the same about the chicken's eggs. A rat snake might take an egg occasionally but it also does a fantastic job of keeping mice and rats out of our yard. I'd much rather deal with a snake than a horde of disease carrying rodents! Rats and mice multiply much faster than snakes. One snake can do a lot of population control. Its a good trade off in my book, but I know, not for everyone. If you really cant stand the idea of a resident serpent, relocating a snake is much better than killing it! A pillow case makes a good place to put a captured snake while you transport it to a new home.

    Thanks again for this very good article!

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  8. I buried Corrugated roofing around my coop an it goes about 18" deep and up from the ground around the perimeter of my run. It needs to be horizontal, snakes will follow around it and not get in, you need to make sure corners are bent over or use some angle iron, a bed frame for the corners, so snakes can't get through there. I have done the same thing for my little goat barns.

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  9. PLEASE DO NOT KILL SNAKES. Snakes are a farmers best friend. My grandparents and parents taught me from the beginning to treasure snakes without which we would have experienced a major problem with rodents. Yes, we lost some eggs, but snakes are so important to a healthy ecosystem that it never caused a problem.
    Also, moth balls are extremely toxic and if only a small amount is ingested the result is death. Plus the moth balls toxic residue remains in the environment a long time.

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  10. We have snakes in the rural area I live in. We also have alot of predatory birds. I've found the best deterrent we have is our outside cat. He roams the entire property. We got several little pens with different breeds of chickens. When they are out free ranging during the day the cat just lays on the hill and watches them. And since he decided to be an outside cat. I've havent even seen a snake.

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  11. How kind that you let the snake have the meal & relocated instead of killed this relatively harmless creature. Thank you.

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  12. Does anyone know of something besides moth balls that works the same way? I can't stand the smell of those things.

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  13. I would love to have Rat snakes around my coops ,I would gladly pay them with the occasional egg for their rat control .I have to keep rat poision out all the time . I built boxes for the poision that the chickens cant get to ,but the rats can enter.After you kill a few with the poision , they get to where they wont eat it .So I mix peanut butter with it (they love it ) to death that is.

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    1. Gotta watch that as if you use poison that they can eat then go away to die, whatever eats that rat will die also.

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  14. People are way too freaked put by snakes. The rats will eat more eggs than a snake by a long shot. An egg now and then is a small price to pay for insurance against rat infestation. I lose more eggs to trampling by other hens when not picked up quickly.

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