The Egg, the Snake & the Owl

Last night we had an unexpected visitor (or rather two unexpected visitors). When we moved to the Lost Pines forest of Central Texas I was fully aware that Texas has snakes. Lots of them. But that awareness didn’t necessarily translate into preparedness.

From City Hens to Country Girls

When we moved to central Texas from suburbia Seattle we knew some adjusting was in store. Not just for us, but for our hens as well. Being former “city dwellers” our hens have done a bang-up job of adapting to their new home. I mean, how would you feel being carted 2,200 miles in the back of a moving van before being plunked down in the middle of a forest in temperatures hotter than you’ve ever experienced? Yeah, you wouldn’t be pleased either.

But here we are. And surprisingly after the first week, the girls have come to love their new place. It certainly helps that they have way more room to roam. And I’m sure the increase in tasty bugs (and yes, even a poor little frog) has helped elevate the status of Texas. But one thing that is certainly a drawback is the introduction of snakes!

Raccoons, Foxes and Snakes, Oh My!

Being that we are now in the middle of 96 acres of wooded, wild land we weren’t naive to think the wildlife would just move over and welcome us. Our security camera has picked up the usuals we also saw in Seattle – raccoons, opossums and squirrels – but also new, exotic animals like armadillos, foxes and yes – snakes.

To protect against the larger predator load we quickly built a fully fenced chicken run with a roof and walk in gate. This sits inside a fully fenced larger courtyard. On the interior we lined the lower section with hardware cloth and placed the hen house in the middle of the enclosure. We also equipped the hen house with an automatic door – just in case I ever forgot to close it or we are away. As the final touch, we cut out plenty of vents and secured each hole with hardware cloth. We figured this should be enough to keep out anything dangerous to the hens. Or at least that is what we figured until last night.

The Egg, the Snake & the Owl

While Todd cleaned up, I stepped outside to make the evening rounds. Which really means I went to close the chicken run gate. I had checked for eggs in morning, but didn’t do an afternoon check. So I opened up the lid to the hen house and peered down into the dimly-lit area. One hen, two hen, three hen, wait, what the $%&# is that?!? Curled up in the nest box was a four foot rat snake – egg stuffed down it’s throat. Thistle (the hen) sat pretty a mere six inches away, unaware of the danger. I sucked in air through a sharp breath, quickly walked to the front of the coop and opened the hen door (perhaps the snake will just leave on it’s own?) and ran back to the house to fetch Todd.

Once inside I interrupted Todd mid-shower. “Ummm, honey, don’t freak out, the girls are fine – but I need your help. There’s a snake in the coop”. WHAT?!?!

Todd bounded out of the shower and donned some shorts and shoes. What do we have that we can use to trap it? We gathered up some tools and met back at the courtyard. Wait, stop – look! Todd pointed just beyond the coop into the woods that abuts the courtyard. Perched on a t-post was a little owl – most likely a screech owl. It stopped me in my tracks. I love owls. Oh – look how cute! Letme get my camera!

Back to the Task at Hand

Todd gave me one of those looks – you know – one of those grab you by the shoulders and shake you to attention looks? There’s a snake in the coop, remember? I brought my consciousness back to the task at hand (even though the owl was really cute and was sitting right next to us). Todd propped open the lid while I shined the flashlight on the invader. Todd took a 1×2 piece of wood to see if he could shepherd it towards the door. But the snake wasn’t going to have any of it and started thrashing around. Thistle the hen, still perched right above the snake, remained blissfully unaware of the danger she was in. The snake whipped its tail and opened up its mouth to bite. At this point we knew it wasn’t going to cooperate. We are going to have to kill it.

I hate killing animals. Even “nuisance” animals like rats or in this case, snakes. I strongly believe everything has a purpose and instead of just killing everything we don’t like, we should learn to understand that purpose. Most often, it’s imbalance that causes conflict between humans and nature. But here I didn’t think imbalance was at play. The snake found itself an opportunistic meal and at this point it was threatening my hens.

I looked to Todd for the plan. He was going to hold the snake’s head down while I came in with our mini-loppers to take the head off. Todd positioned the 1×2″ and trapped the snake. But because of the egg in it’s throat I couldn’t get to it’s “neck” proper and had to adjust the plan to instead cut right behind the egg. Though the snake started thrashing vigorously I was able to do the job in a smooth motion. Todd quickly removed the body and tried to calm down the now jostled girls. I don’t think they ever realized what was happening other than that we were interrupting their beauty sleep.

As Texan as Snakes

We tossed the snake body into the woods, hoping our little owl was still about and went back to the house to finish cleaning up. My plan was to work on unpacking, but after that adventure we opted to relax and watch part of an old movie. That night my dreams were wild. I remember at least two that featured a snake. One wrapped itself around my leg while I struggled to get away. And in another our little dog Zoe was the target of a large constrictor. Todd too had similar dreams. The next morning I spent time educating myself on the common breeds in the area. More than once I read that snakes are as every bit Texan as what we might equate as apple pie to being American. Simply put, snakes are something we are going to have to live with.