Tag Archives: rat snake

Chicken Battles Snake

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.

WhiteMommaWhite 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.

A Shot in the Dark

Another nighttime chicken emergency: once again, loud squawking outside the front door had us out in the dark, in the summertime, in our underwear. Flashing our big spotlights into the trees near the house, we spotted a large Barred owl as it took off from a tree limb and flew out of the light. A Bantam rooster soon tumbled from the limb, sprawled on the ground near our feet and started running in tight circles. Its head was strangely cocked over its back and flapped in an alarmingly non-natural way.

“I think it’s neck is broken,” Anni breathed. I stood there and tried to say something or react in some useful way, but I couldn’t think of what to do. I’d never seen the proverbial “chicken running around with its head cut off” and I must admit, it was a horrific sight.

We finally got organized and decided we needed to put the poor rooster out of its misery. Anni suggested that we whack it with a shovel and she headed over to the barn. I called out for her to bring the hoe instead.

So then we had to decide who was gonna do the deed. We each had perfectly good reasons why the other needed to be the executioner. Meanwhile, the rooster was still scrambling around, even as its vocalizations were getting more faint.

We had to act fast and quit talking about it, the poor rooster was suffering. I said I’d do it but only if I used a pistol. So Anni went in and got the old .22 revolver I’d been given by a family member. The thing was horribly inaccurate and as I popped away at the rooster, shot after shot went astray. Seriously, you could stand four feet away from a paper plate, aim and miss the thing.

The more I missed, the more I got pissed. Anni wasn’t helping with her dry observations about the usefulness of my Army weapons training and my fancy shooting badges. The situation was getting grim. Luckily, the rooster was getting weaker and moving slow enough that I could get closer and place a shot point-blank.

It fell to Anni to dispose of the rooster as she saw fit, I was done for the night. I took my shaky self into the house and went to bed, after making a mental note to clean that crappy pistol the next day. Or maybe throw it away.

We kept several weapons on hand. Target practice was a good idea and fun too.

We kept several weapons on hand. Target practice was a good idea and fun too.

The whole issue of our “failure” to protect the domestic fowl on the property was coming to a head, but we honestly didn’t have a ready answer for it. My frustration level grew each time we experienced an incident but, beyond rounding up all the flock and giving them away, we were caught up in a paradigm. And it didn’t help that K would call us several times during the year to inquire about how his wife’s chickens were faring! We felt like we had to hang in there, to do our best and after that, well, it was up to the lake gods.

Guard Snake

We had this sort of love-hate thing going with the snakes on the property. Actually, it was more like those we tolerated (non-venomous) and those we steered well clear of (rattlesnakes, coral snakes, moccasins for the most part.) However, we did end up encouraging a truly large, fat, 3-foot long rat snake to live between the walls of the house and up in the “attic” space above the drop ceilings in the two bedrooms and bath that were added onto the cabin.

The reason we tolerated this snake was rats and mice. A few months after moving in we finally got around to checking out that space when we were running some electrical wire to upgrade the system. Lo and behold, there were huge rat traps and mice traps and enough droppings to make clear that the attic was inhabited by rodents, or had been not too long ago.

About the same time of this discovery, Anni spotted a large, fat rat snake slither into a 4-inch hole in the wall of the 4th bedroom, which we used as an art studio and home office.

“Well, at least we know now what that hole was there for,” Anni said, scratching her chin as we stood in the office studying the hole.

We figured that if we nailed a square of hardware cloth over the hole, that might keep the snake up in the attic and out of the house. It was a quick project, but we didn’t kid ourselves that the snake would probably come and go as it pleased. We were after all living in a log cabin built in the 1940s and it surely had all manner of gaps and holes that the snake might discover. But we decided that was OK because now we knew that snake, and all we had to do was not panic if we saw it, give it plenty of space and keep mum about it when we had guests.

We discussed whether Echo the lab or Cami the cat would mess with the snake but we decided it was too big for either of them to take on, and so we left it at that.

Fast-forward to a cold, pitch dark night when Anni was staying at the cabin alone and got in very late from working in Ocala. You have to imagine a cabin with the interior temps the same as the outside (in the 50s), no heat, no fire in the fireplace. The dog and cat had long since gone to sleep in the big fluffy dog bed at the foot of Anni’s waterbed.

Exhausted from a long day, Anni brushed her teeth, put on her PJs and crawled into her nice warm, heated waterbed to settle in for the night. That’s when she felt something at her feet move. Telling the story later, she had us all in stitches as she described lying still and thinking about what that might be- couldn’t be Echo or Cami, they were on their bed. Couldn’t be her date, she’d come home alone. (OK that’s a joke.)

She rolled over gently and turned on her bedside lamp. Under the covers at the foot of her bed was a lengthy, fat shape and it was slowly writhing – just like a snake. Just like a big, fat rat snake.

Pandemonium ensued, as Anni leapt from the bed, the waterbed bladder undulating crazily, propelling the snake out from under the covers and onto the floor, and causing Cami to take off like a scalded cat. Echo barked like crazy and chased the snake around the base of the bed while Anni snatched at Echo’s dog collar, trying to pull her away before Echo got bit in the nose.

The snake found refuge between the back of the bed frame and the wall, with Echo on one side peering into the opening and barking and Anni on the other side with a flashlight in her hand, pondering her next move.

As she tells it, Anni grabbed Echo, drug her into the great room, closed the bedroom door, and saw the snake crawl quickly through the other bedroom doorway to the short hallway beyond. Anni followed and peeked around the doorway, only to see the snake disappear into the office at the end of the hallway.

Anni quickly closed the office door behind the snake then raced back through her bedroom, into the great room, over to the other office door, closed that one and Voila! The snake was at least confined to the office– where it stayed until the next day, when Anni crept in, removed the hardware cloth from over the hole in the wall, and crept back out again. She decided she didn’t need to go looking for the snake in the jumble of items in the office closet, surely the reptile was curled up there and would go back to its old hole and home to its attic.

Anni said she never did spot that snake again, and figured it was so traumatized by the event that it either went away or made up its mind to live happily ever after in the attic.

Oh, and we never did have any real problems with rats. Ever.