In spite of having our “guard” geese on the property, the flock of Bantams was slowly being whittled down by the incessant attention of predators. These ranged from the hawks during the daytime (past masters of chicken-snatching) to coons and owls that would pluck the chickens from their night roosts in trees, to snakes that would steal eggs in the odd places where they were laid, any and all the time. We simply couldn’t keep enough biddies hatching in our hand-crafted, snake-proof incubator, nor could we be around every second of the day or night.
We did our best to ward off the attacks, when we were aware of them happening. Which usually occurred at night, when it was 40 degrees or lower outside and we were huddled by the fireplace or, worse, rousted from our beds to find ourselves rushing outside in our underwear, brandishing a big spotlight in one hand and an old mop handle in the other (we kept a lot of those nearby, mostly to keep Hansel at bay when he got too frisky.)
One such night there came such a thumping and screeching from the roof that it drowned out the TV. Our response was instant and unspoken. We hit the drill, snatching up our respective spotlights and mop handles, flipping on the porch light, lifting the latch of the front Dutch door and flying out to the cold and windy night.
White Momma, our very best “settin’ hen”, had been roosting up on the roof, just under an overhanging eve, and we could hear a series of choking squawks coming from that spot. An extension ladder was leaning conveniently against the roof and I dashed up it, stick and spotlight in hand. I quickly grasped the scene: there was White Momma, frantically pecking at and dancing around a writhing snake, which clearly had one of the biddies in its mouth. In fact, it had most of the baby chick in its mouth and the poor baby wasn’t moving.
As I clambered onto the roof, I yelled to Anni what was going on and asked her to come up the ladder and shine her light. After that it was all a blur: somehow I set down my spotlight and approached the snake, which was obviously a large rat snake. I managed to shoo White Momma out of the way and used the mop handle to wedge the snake’s head, hard, down on the roof surface, trying to get it to spit out the baby. After a bit of a tussle, the snake released the biddy, which was dead.
I called out to Anni “Here comes the dead baby,” and I shoved the poor thing over the edge of the roof. We quickly decided I’d flick the snake over the roof too, so at least it wouldn’t be near the nest. As I turned back to get the snake, damned if it didn’t have White Momma in its mouth! She was putting up a real fight and I was so afraid for her, but I was mad as hell at that snake now. It wasn’t gonna get our best hen! So I chased it as it wriggled off, and thank goodness Anni was there with the light. I finally wedged the snake against the eve and thankfully it let White Momma go. She took off like, well, like a wet hen, squealing all the way.
I pounded that snake over the edge of the roof and clambered down the ladder, ready to cut off its head with the ax or the hatchet or the machete or the hoe– we had a lot of tools and weapons at hand. But Anni restrained me, and talked me out of killing that damn snake. We watched it slither off into the darkness past the wash of light from the porch. I know we both cried, standing out in the cold, looking down at that poor dead little chick.
I’m no bleeding heart but really, that was a shocking scene. Plus, we were so frustrated at our inability to protect these free-range chickens, who, we were told, would not come into a coop and if we put them there forcibly every night (oh yeah, not an easy task), they would die. The whole situation of caring for these critters was turning more complicated than we had first thought.
Then, of course, there’s the disposal of the baby chick. You’d think this would be a fairly straight-forward thing, but we were both upset. Anni suggested we put it in a Ziplock bag and out in the garbage collection in the barn, ready for the next trip to the green box (dumpster.) I argued it was dead anyway and so we should toss it out in the woods to feed some other critter. We agreed on that logic, or maybe we were just anxious to be done with the trauma. In any case, the little chick body was consigned to the deep woods and we went back inside, sad and deflated and not a little worried about White Momma tangling with that same snake again. After all, chickens were somewhat creatures of habit, and snakes truly have terrific memories and will return to the scene of the crime, again and again.
I told Anni that if I saw that same snake again, anywhere near the house, it was gonna be a dead snake. She didn’t argue the point.