General Information & Description
Snakes are long, legless carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. Fifteen families of snakes are currently recognized, comprising of more than 2,900 species. The largest living species are the reticulated pythons, which can reach 30 feet long, and the aquatic anaconda, the heaviest existing snake, which measures 25 feet. Most snakes are relatively small animals measuring 3 to 4 feet in length. The smallest is only 4 inches long, the Leptotyphlops cariae. Because they cannot chew their food, snakes swallow their prey whole. The average snake feeds on small animals like lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs. Larger snakes like pythons, on the other hand, can consume an entire deer or antelopes.
Snakes are found on most islands and in every continent except Antarctica. They adapt to living in different habitats, but most species prefer damp, dark, cool places where food is abundant. Likely places to find snakes around your property is wood or junk piles, gardens with heavy mulch, untrimmed shrubs and shrubs growing next to foundations, unmowed and unkept lawns, fields with tall vegetation, pond and stream banks with abundant debris, cluttered basements and attics, feed storage areas and barns where there's lots of rodents and crawl spaces under houses.
Methods of Kill
Most snakes kill their prey either by introducing venom through bites, or by constricting them to death before swallowing them. Their highly flexible lower jaws allow them to take in large prey. For instance, the African egg-eating snake can take in eggs larger than his own head. Its spine acts like teeth, breaking the egg shells as it passes through the body. After taking the contents of the egg, it will then regurgitate the empty shell. Once a snakes gains access to your coop, eggs and small chicks are those that are most often eaten by snakes.
Prevention & Treatment
Those living in areas known for snakes should fortify the base of their chicken coops and runs and fit an apron around your chicken run. Also cover windows and other openings, such as ventilation holes with fine mesh or hardware cloth. Check for cracks or holes in any buildings and fill them in, as these could be places where snakes could enter. You can also try snake deterrents. But be careful when using anything toxic, such as mothballs. Make sure that it is out of reach of your children, chickens and other pets. A safer method of dealing with snakes is by setting snake traps.
Because snakes do not like open spaces, it is also recommended that you mow tall grass around chicken coops. Make sure you clear away their favorite hiding spaces like wood piles and rocks. Compost piles in your backyard are excellent breeding grounds for the snakes. These should be cleared or relocated far from your chicken coops. Also eliminate rodents from your property as they will attract snakes. Trim any bushes or shrubs to create a space of at least 6 inches between the ground and the bottom branches.
For more information and discussions on snakes and how to protect your flock visit the Predators and Pests section of the forum.