Wrangling the Snakes

NO Mr. Snake–you cannot eat my silkie babies!

Robbie–who really wishes to be called batman–holding the successfully captured reptile.
  • TRIGGER WARNING — snake pictures below.

So this morning was exciting!

I love wrangling the snakes away from our chicken pens. (Although I don’t like them being there.) This is our first snake this season which is pretty unusual. I thought I’d share the story, the video, and the pictures here for you!

We have three chicken pens and in one of the pens are our silkies.

This is Merlin, our lavender bantam silkie roo and Icy our white bantam silkie hen.

This morning Robbie (my S.O. for those of you who haven’t read about him yet — he’s kind of a superhero 🙂 went out to feed the silkies and discovered a 5–6 ft black rat snake in the pen. Snakes eat the eggs and any baby chicks they can get. They must be removed from the pens immediately.

We have a very strict “no kill” snake policy and only break it if there is no other alternative.

We’ve killed snakes only twice — once when a black snake (thicker-bodied and stronger than the black racers) had the head of one of my favorite silkie hens in its mouth. The silkie’s name was Prudence and she was one of the two first silkies we ever had. We were too late and Prudence’s life was lost. That was the only time we’ve killed a non-venomous snake.

The other kill was a copperhead snake that was inside of our “big girl” pen (the pen with our standard-sized laying hens) and since Robbie was out of town at the time, I was left to handle the snake alone. It was a small copperhead, orange-diamonded and beautiful.

I know it’s weird but copperheads are my favorite — they have the most colorful, beautiful pattern.

I hated that we killed this snake and to this day it does not sit well with me. (We do not have health insurance and I thought it simply too risky to try to relocate this venomous snake.) My son arrived home shortly after I discovered the coiled visitor and he was able to help me ‘take care” of the situation.

We have probably relocated in excess of 20 snakes on our journey as chicken parents and before Robbie came along and started “protecting” me a bit too much when the snakes come around — I was the family snake handler. They called me. I showed up. I have relocated many snakes!

It is always a huge shock to find a snake in the pens. No matter how snake-friendly you are, it is a blow to your nerves. This morning Robbie’s heart was racing as he ran into the house yelling basically for “all hands on deck” we have a large snake.

All four of us ran out the door.

This was the view as we all arrived, one with a rake (for pinning the head or pulling) and one with a laundry bag, and Robbie and I donning our gloves.

Yep, it was a big one! Icy will not be moved. Chicken mommas are VERY brave.

Meet Icy, our very brave momma hen. She is a white, bantam silkie, and she is my prized hen. She, as you can see is very brave, and will not be moved off of her clutch of hatch-ready eggs. This is an older snake, who has most likely weighed the risk-reward options and decided to wait her out. It would have been a very long stand-off.

Chicken mommas are very brave. They will die to protect their young — as the roosters will die to protect their hens.

I have seen roosters fight off things twice their size but for some reason they do not step in when it comes to snakes.

Icy sat firm.

Robbie refused my first offer to drag it out by the tail and let him get ahold of the head. He opted for the drag-and-toss method, slinging the huge thing through the air and into the grass.

This prompted a frenzy of activity.

The snake landed in the grass and immediately fled in my direction. I was grabbing at it. Robbie was grabbing at it. Abby was chasing it with the laundry bag.

Alex pinned the head with the rake (one of those retractible bendy rakes) and I began shoving the snake’s writhing body into the bag. The head broke free.

Robbie yells for me to back up and I am arguing that “I am fine baby, it can’t hurt me.”

The snake wriggles free and we chase it a few more times before Robbie got its head beneath his shoe. The snake wrapped its body around Robbie’s leg, all the way to his lower stomach! That thing was long!

Robbie is exclaiming “This is not cool. This is not cool!”

I get the bag and again I am wrangling the body off of Robbie’s leg and into the bag. Robbie stoops to pull the draw string and released the snake’s head. Luckily it withdrew putting its entire self now into the bag. Draw string pulled.

I tied the string tightly around the top of the bag while Robbie held the bag.

Victory!

Time for release!

Robbie and I took the snake to an area a few miles from our home where there are industrial buildings but no nearby homes that may have chickens. There is a large forested area there where we chose for the release.

Here’s the video of the release!

20190526_133611.mp4
Video of black rat snake relocation and release. drive.google.com

  • *Correction — I do believe now that it was a black rat snake and not a racer — the underbelly was black. It was just very shiny and that threw me off.

Sorry if the video is sideways…I am SO not the tech wizard. But you can see a successful release. (I did not show myself in any pictures or in the video because I am having this crazy dental issue — you can tell in my talking that my mouth is swollen. But at the time of this video the pain wasn’t too bad, thank goodness. Adrenaline is also a factor there. See here and here for more info on that.)

And when we returned home to check on Icy…we found she IS at hatch time!

Congratulations Icy on your hard work and bravery paying off!

So Icy has one baby and there are a pile of eggs there waiting to hatch. I’ll add more pictures of the babies to this post as they hatch out and begin their explorations of the world.

Now if you will excuse me…I need to go and ice my back. I am getting too old for this.

Chickens are A Great Way to Celebrate Morning, a Poem about mine…

If you’ve never gotten up in the morning to feed the chickens, it is quite an experience. This time of the year (very early spring) I check every morning for a fluffed hen who’s claimed a pile of eggs and has decided to be a mommy. Last Spring we welcomed Junebug, a sweet bantam cochin baby who followed me everywhere and took a liking to raiding the cat food bowl. We usually don’t keep too many of the babies, but Junebug stole my heart. Here is Junebug as a baby last spring:

Junebug, a blue bantam cochin.

This morning I went to feed the chickens and the wind in my face overwhelmed me with a deep wish to see the ocean. Sometimes that little bit of breeze on your face and you can almost smell the salty air of the coast. I wrote a quick poem about feeding the chickens this morning, and a deep longing for a visit with the sea. Here is Hen Song.

Hen Song

Blue Tupperware pitcher scoops up grainy feed.
I open the door; the wind steals my breath.
Stepping onto the deck I am stunned
By the sudden impulse to close my eyes
Suck in the wind and hear…
I hear the ocean.
I can almost see gulls, ring-billed, Bonaparte’s
Lifting, gliding, tucking, diving
Snatching up a silver flapping gift
From the sea.

I crunch through leaves, dried
Desperate for Spring
Buttercups plunging toward sky
Open, thirsty mouths of yellow and white.
The chickens march, two-footed and beak
pacing the fence
Craning their feathered necks
to see what I have brought.

I scatter and pour,
Check waterers, collect eggs
Silkies pecking at the polish on my toes.
Hello Miracle and Junebug!
Freedom and Merlin, Icy and Sprinkle!
Good morning! Good morning!
Squawk and song applaud a hen’s efforts
As I retreat, scraping my flip flops in grass.
I close my eyes and think of echinoderms
Suspended in the sand.
A conch shouts my name.