Just wanted to write about an experience I had about a week ago because I noticed some posts where people were writing that snakes do not bother chickens, except for baby chicks and eggs. I used to think the same thing until I heard one of my 7 week old hens (a Rhode Island Red) screaming at 7 am one morning. I looked out the window and saw her down and struggling. Given that this is my first flock of chickens, I thought she might be having a seizure, and I ran out to check on her, not sure what I would do when I got to her. As I got closer, I realized that she was being strangled by a snake.
Folks, this snake was not a huge bull snake, rattlesnake, or python. It was just a 3 foot long nonpoisonous rat snake and about an inch and a half in diameter. There was no way in hell he would ever be able to eat my chicken. That did not stop him from killing her, though. In fact, my neighbor believes it was the same snake he caught in his pigeon coop a few days earlier. The snake had swallowed a wooden egg and strangled one of the pigeons. My neighbor actually coaxed the wooden egg back out of the snake so it wouldn't die. In hindsight, it obviously should have been killed, but neither of us ever thought that such a small snake would go after even bigger prey than his pigeon. And, we both believed that having the occasional snake around and losing an egg every once in awhile was a fair price to pay for good rodent patrol.
I was heartbroken to lose a chicken I had raised from 2 days old, and I am sure I will be forever haunted by the sound of Addie (my chicken) screaming and the sight of her being strangled before my eyes. I am not sure that I could have saved her had I tried to remove the snake, but I wasn't sure that I would be able to get the snake off of her without doing more damage and that I wouldn't get bitten in the process. Her death was remarkably quick, but I sincerely wish I had known what the right thing to have done was. I am unfortunately handicapped by a paralyzing fear of snakes that I know is not rational. It was all I could do to get into the chicken run and get my other 4 chickens locked in the coop. They were understandably terrified, and I'm sure my hysteria wasn't comforting.
My chickens are housed in a 4 x 6 A-frame coop which sits inside a 10 x 10 chain link dog kennel. I'm sure the snake was easily able to slither through the holes in the chain link, but it honestly never occurred to me that I would need to snake-proof my chicken run. Mostly, I was worried about a fox and wanted sturdy chain link to withstand a determined predator. Of course, my husband and I immediately wrapped hard plastic mesh with half inch holes around the whole chicken run and laid an apron on the ground too. The top was already covered with a similar material to keep out hawks and owls. The problem with our solution is that a squirrel who had obviously become accustomed to eating chicken feed promptly chewed through double layers of the mesh at ground level in multiple places, leaving perfectly sized holes for snakes to get in. At this point, I'm thinking of starting completely over with the run and building it from scratch using lumber and hardware cloth with the possibility of electric wire, too.
Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know about my experience so that they don't become complacent about the presence of snakes around chickens. My experience may be rare, but it was devastating, and it has forever changed my outlook about the costs and benefits of having a snake around.