It’s a Snake Eat Snake World


snake3For every animal farmers and homesteaders bring onto their land, there is at least one other uninvited critter that comes along for the free ride. Most livestock are installed on the homestead because they taste delicious, with a little preparation, or because they produce something else that is just as tasty.

As an example, chickens fill both roles. Who doesn’t like chicken or eggs? Especially, the sort from my farm. Except for the occasional miscreant who meets an untimely end, my chickens have a fairly plush gig. It includes a run with more square footage than the first house I lived in, a muscular lab who hasn’t figured out that hens are made entirely of chicken meat to pull security detail, and regular access to a hay field, where they can scratch the soil and eat bugs until their hearts are content.

If you don’t have a specific purpose on the farm, don’t be surprised when you are what’s for dinner.

In my youth, I had a pet ball python that, despite all reasonable efforts to keep him contained, would escape every now and again to make off for warm, secluded areas of the house.

There is something hardwired into the human mind to avoid slithery sorts of animals because, even for the owner of a snake, opening a closet door to find Monty the Python draped over and curled around a closet rod will give you a start.

I knew I owned a snake. I knew he wasn’t in his glass house when I looked five minutes ago. It’s not unreasonable to think the snake may be hiding somewhere in the house, but I still nearly wet my pants every time.

It’s like those posts on Facebook of a young Victorian lady that suddenly screams and transforms into a ghoul.

One of the horse stalls in my barn is converted into a feed storage closet. Somebody goes in and out of there at least twice a day, so habits develop and expectations emerge because nothing bad has ever happened entering it. For example, I expect to waltz into the feed locker at night and NOT NEARLY STEP ON A FREAKING SNAKE!

Luckily for me, the little fella (or little lady. I didn’t check) had managed to entangle himself in the flap end of a roll of bird netting we had leaned in the corner.

After Mrs. Cunha came running at my shrieking like a little girl, I felt confident enough in my snake wrangling skills to move the whole circus outside. Roll of bird netting in one hand, the safe end of the snake in the other, and about four feet of well-muscled, writhing garden hose in between, I waddled out of the barn with Mrs. Cunha following close behind with a flashlight and a hatchet.

The tree farm on the other side of the road that borders my place seemed like an excellent location to let this snake go be a snake. I wasn’t sure how to free him from the net, but figured, if I couldn’t shake him lose, I’d leave the netting there and let him sort it out.

I’ve seen videos of people bitten by critters while trying to release them from a trap, so I assume trapped animals are ingrates.

Zeus, sensing excitement, came hauling dog-butt from around the corner of the barn, where I assume he was sniffin’ and peein’, to join in. He would have made an excellent member of La Costa Nostra because despite extensive questioning after the fact, Zeus remained mum as to whether his intent was to protect his territory or play tag.

Either way, I now had the added difficulty and stress of trying to keep the dog and this snake apart from each other. For her part, Mrs. Cunha did an excellent job of keeping the flashlight beam trained on the business end of this serpent, so I could keep some degree of control on the situation. I was praying the whole way that the snake didn’t work its head free and take a chunk out of me.

I don’t recall saying, Honey, watch this! but that’s about how things turned out. The snake freed his head and, being that I was holding on to its tail, swung towards me and the dog. That’s the moment things got real, as the kids say.

My regular readers should know by now what Rule #2 is on the Cunha Homestead.

In the heat of a moment, whether it’s a gunfight or pushing Helen Keller out of the path of a runaway horseless carriage, dealing decisively with the threat takes precedence over everything else. Sorry, Mr. Snake. I don’t enjoy killing. Under different circumstances, like passing through on your way somewhere else, I would have been largely indifferent to your existence.

Curious at to the exact form the Devil had taken to invade my garden, I turned to my good friend Google. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a snake nerd. Such a person is called a herpetologist and their field of study is called herpetology. They are quite informative people.

snake1Turns out the snake we had just evicted from the barn was an eastern black kingsnake; which have the rather interesting propensity to eat rattlesnakes. Who knew? But like any self-respecting reptile of the same proportions, eastern black kingsnakes eat mice and chicken eggs, too. I suspect they would also eat a chick, if given the chance.

This is an interesting conundrum that never crossed my mind prior to owning a farm. To my mind, animals are in either the “good” or “bad” category. This “mixed bag” status forces me to think, and I’m not such a big fan of having to think. Mostly, because I’m American.

If I wanted to deal in nuance, I’d be a Liberal.

After considering the duality of the situation, I began to wonder what the sacrifice of eggs would be versus the benefit of reduced rattlesnakes. They eat eggs, too. Is it really a wash in terms of lost eggs, and the deciding factor has more to do with avoiding inadvertent viper bites? With a fairly young child and her big, goofy lab running around the joint, the thought of someone receiving a dose of snake venom frightens me.

It wouldn’t likely be a fatal event, but the desire to protect my children, particularly the ones of the girl persuasion, increases as the child’s age decreases.

Call me a hetro-normative dinosaur who clings to misogynistic values of the patriarchy, if you like, but girls rate more protecting from life’s traumas. The boys would consider being snake bitten as a badge of honor and show off the scars to anyone willing to see them. I’d probably do the same. Boy and girls are just different from each other.

Considering their relative sizes and how often most snakes eat, how many rattlesnakes can an eastern black kingsnake eat, anyway? For all I know, rattlesnakes leave the area because they are terrified of the eastern black kingsnake’s reputation; like in Jim Croce’s warning to stay clear of the south side of Chicago because of Leroy Brown.

So, yet again, I find myself short of answers and turning to my readers for advice. What are your experiences of kingsnakes and the general trade-offs of beneficial outside wildlife that come with a cost to farm output?

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “It’s a Snake Eat Snake World

  1. Here is East Texas we see a lot of those black snakes. When we first moved here I was all for killing everyone of them that made the mistake of coming on my land but have since learned to coexist with them. As long as they stay out of the chicken coop they are allowed to live. That doesn’t mean I don’t get freaked out when I run across one but I they keep the mice population down and I have not seen a rattler or a copperhead snake around here in a while. Not sure if the black snakes are the reason but I like to think so.

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  2. We have a healthy population of Kingsnakes on our property. And never see any poisonous snakes. They have to be removed from the chicken coops occasionally, but are normally mild tempered. But I do not pick up anything off the barn floor in the dark-just sayin. We have had a good working relationship with the Kingsnakes over the years. We have found the larger ones(6-7 feet) like to hang with the chickens a little too much and have to be relocated-snakes not doing anything but hanging out. But freaks the birds out.

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  3. I’m so jealous! All I’ve seen on our property was a corn snake in 2013 and a northern brown water snake about a month ago. My daughter saw the tale of something that we think was the water snake going toward the coop (no chickens due to a fox), but we’re ok with it going after the mice that have moved in. I WISH we could get a few kingsnakes; my neighbor said he killed a copperhead coming out of the long grass in front of our house when he was weed-wacking at the property line.

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