A fun thing about working outside and raising food and animals is the close contact with nature. So much depends on the weather and the soil and insects – both good and bad and subtle and obvious. Sometimes the encounters with nature are very obvious and thrilling like finding a bird’s nest or catching a snake. We are lucky to have a large black rat snake at TFF. I have seen it three times this year and have handled and measured it. The rat snake is about 5.5 feet long and looks very healthy. The first time I saw him he was coming out of the main chicken coop. The chickens were in a pasture and I just assumed he was drawn to the coop by the presence of birds. I figured the most he could do was eat an egg and would not tangle with a full-grown chicken. At the time we had chicks but they were in a brooder in the garage. The best thing about having a snake around the place is that the snake does a good job of keeping mice and rats at bay. As you can see from the photo, this is a beautiful snake and we enjoy seeing him from time to time.
About a month after the photo above was taken we moved the feathered-out poults from the brooder to the main coop where they integrated well with a few older poults and a young cockerel. All was well until two days ago when we found a dead poult. She was lying on the floor all stretched out in an odd way. Upon closer inspection we could see that her head and neck were coated with a crusty material which I now believe was dried snake saliva.
So it appears that the snake did decide to have a go at the poults and that the snake’s eyes were bigger than its mouth. It seems the snake constricted the poult and then tried to eat it head first but gave up when it reached the end of the neck and encountered the wings and breast. This didn’t bother me as it was one chicken out of 25 and I knew the snake would not come back for more since it is not in the nature of a predator to expend valuable energy on something it can not eat. This morning we found the snake buried under some litter in the coop and farmer girl caught it and decided to relocate it by taking it to the other side of the farm. We’ll see if the snake makes it back to the farm yard.
Not all encounters with wildlife are as gruesome as the last one. A day after finding the dead bird we were paid a visit by one of Bambi’s ilk. Here is a photo of my mother-in-law with a fawn that was hiding in our back field. The mother was hiding out of sight. The stark comparison of new life and recent death is a big part of farm life and food production.
Updated September 9, 2011. This summer was extremely hot and dry. During the last week of August I captured three rat snakes. One very large one was in the main coop after dark suspended above some full grown hens as if he were considering giving it a try. I moved him to another area of the farm. A day later I had some small Cornish X poults inside a wire fence and a different rat snake killed one. I found the snake and bird just as the snake was starting to try to eat the poult. Once again the snake had to give up when he got to the birds body. A few days later a rat snake came in our garage, into the brooder and killed another Cornish X poult. I found this chain of events somewhat surprising. I wonder if the extremely hot and dry weather has made hunting difficult for these snakes and if these were acts of desperation on the part of hungry snakes. Hard to say but it does shoot holes in my theory that snake predation of poultry is limited to late spring and early summer.