Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adventures with Snakes and Chickens


I had not seen any snakes this summer, and I thought I was fortunate not to encounter them, or any other wildlife, in my chicken pen. My good fortune began to change after a discussion one night earlier this month at the book club of which I am a member.  All the ladies shared their snake encounters and I, somewhat smugly, realized I had no story to share. 


When I arrived home that night and went to check on the chickens, no eggs were in the nest.  I found that odd, and gently scolded my lazy chickens as I plucked them from their perch on the roof of the chicken tractor, where they like to roost when it’s hot outside, and began to put them inside the chicken tractor for their safety.  Then, in the dim flashlight beam, I noticed a black snake slithering among the nine pairs of chicken legs on the roof and off the side of the tractor.  The chickens were in the usual almost-comatose state they enter after dark, and the one the snake nearly knocked off the roof as he exited didn’t even notice.  I ran to the house to get my husband, Scott, who said, “What do you want me to do? I know you don’t want me to kill it.”  I replied, “I don’t know, but you should just be out there with me!”


I am not afraid of snakes, but I respect them and I want them to tend to their snake business away from me. The snake sped under a gap underneath the electrified netting fence, and Scott and I arrived just in time to see it disappear under his man shed.  We looked for it, and our plan was to catch it and release it somewhere far away from any chickens if we saw it again.  Black snakes are helpful to have around because they control rodents, and are not poisonous, but I couldn’t have one eating my eggs.


A week or two later, my neighbor found two large timber rattlesnakes in her yard, and as far as I know, had them killed.  I would have killed them if they were in my yard too because of the danger they pose to people and pets. 


On Sunday afternoon, I checked on the chickens and noticed that the nest egg, a large wooden white egg from my daughter’s play kitchen I put in the nesting box to encourage the chickens to lay their eggs there instead of on the ground, was missing.  I lifted the straw on one of the nesting boxes, thinking the chickens might have buried the nesting egg, and found a large black snake curled in the box.  It had a bulge just the size of the nest egg, which is larger than a normal egg, in its body.  If a snake can smell the eggs and come from the woods into the chicken tractor after the eggs, I do not know why he can’t tell the difference between a real egg and a wooden one.   I suppose I scared the snake as much as he scared me, and that’s why he didn’t bite me.  I dropped the straw and ran to get Scott. 


Again, Scott wondered why I was bothering him, but I told him that because as far as I knew, snakes could not digest wooden eggs, the humane thing to do was to kill the snake instead of letting it suffer, and that snake killing was definitely his job.  My daughter, Ella, 5, wanted to see what was going on, so I showed her the snake and explained to her that the snake had eaten her wooden egg and we’d have to kill it so it wouldn’t suffer.    


My grandparents always kept a good sharp hoe around for snake killing, but I lack a suitable one, or at least could not locate it in the melee.  The snake was coiled inside the nesting box, and inside the chicken tractor, so hoe chopping was not possible.  Scott used a shovel.  I let the fence down to encourage the chickens to leave the area, but they preferred to see what we were doing in their house.  As the snake killing progressed, I had to shooing them away to keep them from pecking at the snake and possibly becoming victim of a misplaced shovel-blow. 


Scott managed to kill the snake without destroying the chicken tractor, although there are a few new holes in the plastic siding.  It is surprisingly hard to kill a snake in a nesting box.  He left me the job of burying the snake.  After I answered all of Ella’s questions about the snake’s death and showed her the dead snake, at her request, she said she did not want the egg back.  I buried the snake, containing the wooden egg, in a gully. The chickens seem very unconcerned about the entire experience, I tried to fortify the chicken tractor further against snakes, and I will scatter mothballs around our property as a snake repellent.  I have also designated a sharp bush axe as the future weapon of choice to use against snakes inside the chicken tractor. 

A few days later, I smelled dead snake and discovered that some animal had dug up the snake, and, apparently possessing more intelligence than the snake, had eaten the snake but had left the wooden nest egg in the woods nearby.  I also left the nest egg, which reeked of dead snake, on the forest floor, but I covered it with some leaves to reduce the odor.  Ella did not want it back.

2 comments:

  1. Elizabeth DevolderAugust 25, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    I am exhausted just reading of your adventures. I AM scared of snakes, and am impressed at your calm and cool response! Go MaryAnn! Go Scott! Go Ella! I have found your blog a bit inspiring though . . . I have found a local organic (in practice, not certified) chicken farm, where I am buying Sophie's chicken, and just potted some basil because I would like to have some homegrown herbs available. This is a HUGE step for a city girl like me! Thanks for sharing your country and gardening adventures - I am enjoying them!

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  2. Love reading your blog. And yes the two large rattlesnakes(one with 12 rattlers) are deceased. A big thank you to Jerry Kramer who took care of these two snakes instantly without suffering to the snake. Very dangerous snakes for our friends on Calico Lane.

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