Life With Farm Snakes

By Leah
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I grew up in an old farm house, originally built by relatives who were not carpenters. There was no insulation in the walls, floors, or ceiling. A basement had been dug by hand, but was pretty much just a hole in the ground to give access to the under part of the floors where the pluming pipes hung exposed, or to hide in during a severe storm, which we never used for that purpose. The wiring was all on the outside of the walls and covered in flex leading to plug-ins. And the roof, as well as the outside walls, were covered in fiberglass type singles.

Over the years, Daddy remodeled it—adding insulation, fixing the plumbing, replacing the roof, moving the wiring into the walls, paneling the rooms, and adding real siding. But while I was very small, it was just an old, drafty house with many places for the ‘critters’ to get in. We had a nest of pack rats in the attic, which we never could eliminate until the remodeling began. A few bats lived up there, as well. And we had snakes.

Every summer at least two or three black snakes found their way into the house. I imagine they were hunting mice for the most part, though occasionally we found them in the dog food sack in the pantry. And now and then, we mistook them for electrical cords as they slowly crawled up a wall. We never got bit, or found them in our beds or closets. But I saw enough of them that I learned not to be afraid of them.

Once the house was securely remodeled, and Mom got her flock of guinea fowl, we seldom saw snakes around the house. But there were still many snakes in the area. Grass snakes in the flower beds, spreading adders in the fields, coach whips, blue racers, copperheads, and even a king snake who lived in the barn. Daddy always gave him a saucer of milk when he fed the cats. Daddy taught me which snakes were poisonous and which were not, but to respect all of them and stay out of their reach.

Our first few years here on Old Home Farm we had to be very careful of snakes. Copperheads and black snakes were pretty thick around here. Greg got bit one evening by a copperhead when he went out to check on our puppy. And there were always black snakes invading the chicken nests and eating eggs. But they didn’t invade the house. Then came the chickens and guinea and they disappeared. We began to feel secure again.

Then, about three years ago, we were having a family picnic and my sister-in-law called to me from my guest bathroom which also doubles as the laundry room. She said she saw a black snake sliding behind my mop bucket. Greg came with the hog catcher and when we moved the bucket we found a pair of black snakes curled together in the corner. I suspect the female was looking for a place to lay eggs. We removed and killed them. We kept an eye out for a long time after that, but didn’t see any more. Greg dropped moth balls down the holes around the pipes leading to the washing machine and filled them with steal wool. And we thought no more about it.

My flock of a dozen guinea had begun to dwindle about that time, and a year or so later, I started to find black snakes in my hen nests again. I simply shot those. After that we didn’t see any more. But we did find where they had shed their skins.

As I said in my last blog, I am down to one adult guinea, and my chickens are getting on in years. So I am raising up new stock for replacements. Last Father’s Day we spent the day with Greg’s Dad. We arrived home to hear frantic chirping from the cage I keep my new keets in. We ran to see and found a young black snake inside. He had already swallowed two of my keets, and had the rest hemmed in a corner.

We managed to get the surviving keets out and Greg caught the snake’s head with the hogcatcher. Then Greg used the bolt cutter to decapitate him. We believe the snake had heard the keets chirping and had come in through the cat door. So, once again we scattered moth balls and covered the cage with bird netting.

Life on the farm is never dull. You just have to learn to live with the critters, and deal with them as best as you can.