Tag Archives: Ziba Khaya

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.

Martha and the Vandals

The loss of a few Bantam chickens made us think of getting some bigger chickens. Our reasoning was two-fold: they’d be trained to come into the chicken pen at night for protection and, being much larger than the Bantams, would less likely fall prey to hawks or owls. We bought four Rhode Island Red hens and named them Martha and the Vandals. Not really sure why, it just stuck.AnniChixGretelThe four big hens fit right into the flock, and were soon grazing the lawn and hanging out under the trees during the day. At night, we’d shoo them into their enclosure and let them out the next morning. Often they’d lay large eggs with bright orange yolks. The eggs were rich and we found them to be very strong tasting but golly they made huge omelets and with enough onions and tomatoes and the like, they weren’t bad.

For months all was well with the flock until we came up short one hen. We kept our eyes peeled but she went missing for several days. We’d just about given up hope for her when, one fateful day, we were out in the back yard grilling burgers with a handful of visiting friends. All of a sudden we heard loud squawking and thrashing noises beyond the trees at the edge of the lawn. As we headed over to the tree line, a big red hen came racing out onto the lawn, flapping her wings and screaming crazily, scattering tiny feathers as she ran around in circles and darted about the lawn.

We quickly grabbed a long-handled fish net that was leaning against a tree down near the lake and with the help of a few people, we chased the panicked hen until we netted her. Feathers had been obviously ripped painfully out of her head, her tail, a wing and a section of her body. The poor thing was bleeding where the feathers had been snatched out and was clearly in shock and pain.

We were all in shock too, and as we hovered over the mangled hen, we discussed what could have done this to her. A dog? Nope-  we would have known if there were strange dogs in the neighborhood, and all the known neighbor dogs left the chickens and geese alone. Maybe a gator? Nope- she came out of the woods, not the lake, and gators didn’t hang out in the woods. Then, maybe, a raccoon? Yeah, maybe but boy, that would need to be one big, mean ‘coon to do this kind of damage.

The hen eventually calmed down a bit and we determined that there wasn’t too much we could do to help her. She’d lost a lot of feathers but otherwise seemed able to walk and dart about, her eyes and legs were undamaged, so we put her up in the pen to keep an eye on her progress.

After a couple of days, she seemed normal and it appeared some feathers were growing back, so we let her out of her jail so that she could eat bugs and scratch for pebbles and hang with the flock.

Hansel and the Raccoon

Lynn Defends

Hansel could be a tyrant!

One evening at dusk, we were unloading the groceries from the car out front when we heard Hansel squawking  and raising hell down near the lake. We shot through the house to the back porch, grabbing spotlights and sticks as we went.

Anni turned on the big outside lawn light and the porch screen door slammed shut with a bang as we headed toward the edge of the pool of light. Sweeping our spotlights down toward the lake, we spotted Hansel, apparently on top of some animal.

“My god I think Hansel’s beating up on a ‘coon!” Anni called out. I couldn’t quite make out what her spotlight was illuminating because my light was on Gretel a few feet from the fracas as she stood off, hissing furiously, her neck fully extended horizontally and her tongue sticking out with the force of her anger.

Anni told me to come up to her but no further. I was arguing about how we needed to go to the rescue when she said “No, wait, I think Hansel’s got that ‘coon licked!”

What a scene! Hansel was balanced on the back of a large raccoon with one wing extended and touching the ground to steady himself while furiously beating the ‘coon with his other wing. Hansel had crooked his wing so that the bony “elbow”  was exposed, and the sound of the rapid blows he rained about the ‘coon’s head carried across the lawn to where we stood rooted to the spot, amazed.

“Go!” “Yay- get ’em, Hansel!”, we shouted encouragement as Gretel crept closer, hissing and honking and flapping her wings threateningly.

Suddenly, the ‘coon managed to shrug Hansel off its back and in the blink of an eye darted across the lawn and into the darkness under the tree line.

We decided to stay where we were because it was clear Hansel was still in fighting mode, and even Gretel’s cooing did nothing to calm him down. He strutted around, flapping his wings, stretching his neck on high and honking mightily.

“That’s his Tarzan call,” Anni said and we laughed to break the tension. What an intense scene to witness! We were very proud of Hansel and the way he protected his goose, and we thought Gretel did a fine job supporting him. At least she, and we, had the good sense to let him finish what he’d started. I don’t doubt we would have jumped in if needed, but we knew enough about the strength of wild animals to know that someone would likely have come away injured, so we were glad that Hansel had whipped that ‘coon’s butt.

GeeseFlyBest

Landing

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.