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!
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.
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.
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