This article was updated on 27 Oct 2015 Summer in Queensland, Australia (where I live) means snake season and it’s the same for many other places around the world. Snakes are fine in the wild but around the home they are not so welcome and if you keep chickens you can be rest assured snakes will be attracted to your property like ants to sugar.
But don’t freak out about snakes because there are simple ways to limit or even stop snakes from lurking around your poultry pen, and that’s what this post is exactly about… snake management around chickens and other poultry.
The python in the image above was one I relocated from my chicken pen after he had eaten a possum the night before (yes, I did count my chickens…)
Before we demonise snakes however, I want to say the odd snake on your property shouldn’t mean Armageddon as it’s just a snake and they are beautiful creatures albeit potentially dangerous ones. And, with good awareness and sensible management it’s very unlikely you or your family will ever come close to being bitten by one of these beautiful reptiles.
During my military career, I came across lots of snakes in the bush – I’ve had them come right up to me and sniff my boots – but, very rarely did I ever see a snake become aggressive unless it was taunted by an idiot. One of my mates found a Taipan in his sleeping bag once, luckily he was going to sleep with his boots on and he felt the strike as he slid his boot into the sleeping bag – the incident was seriously funny causing quite a commotion and I remember the screaming dance as he realised what had happened (Troy hated snakes and the Northern Taipan is highly venomous so it was rather unkind to laugh). Mind you, it has always been common practice for Bushmen and Aussie soldiers to leave their sleeping bags rolled up until they are ready to go to bed and that’s why you should always follow protocols!
Anyway, when it comes to snakes around chicken pens it’s not necessarily the chickens that the snakes are after and it’s rare for adult chickens to be attacked by snakes (even large pythons won’t normally kill a chicken – though it does happen) usually snakes are after rodents first and then eggs second if they find some by chance.
This python caught a rat in my chicken pen – the next morning the snake was gone (image above).
We feed chickens food scraps and grains which happen to be favourite foods for mice and rats also. Rodents are a natural food for snakes and snakes are well adapted to catching them; therefore, if you have a chicken pen it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll get rodents and in turn snakes.
It’s not just rodents that attract snakes either as it can be any animal snakes are used to eating. I used to have a clever possum that worked out how to operate the chicken treadle feeder in my pen by standing on it just like the chickens – the feeder lid banging in the dead of night used to annoy the heck out me. Unfortunately, for the possum, a large python learnt the possum’s regular habit, waited by the feeder one night and had possum for dinner.
Methods to deter snakes and snake management
I have a pretty easy-going relationship with the wildlife on my property – it’s one of the reasons we moved to an acreage, and when I designed my chicken pen I built it so it integrated into the surrounds as best as possible. This means encounters with local “native” wildlife are plenty and it’s the way we like it but one minor drawback is the occasional visit by a snake and when this happens I have my own snake management plans in place and methods to ensure I don’t get overrun by serpents.
Remove pull factors – So naturally, if we remove the things that attract snakes in the first place we can reduce the numbers of snakes from venturing around our chickens significantly. The following points may not eliminate snakes from your area totally but it will help:
- Reduce rats and mice – Rodents love chicken pens and other bird aviaries/enclosures because they get an easy free feed. Use feeders that make it more difficult for rodents to access like PVC wall mounted feeders, or treadle feeders. Feed kitchen scraps through the day so it’s all eaten by the chickens before nightfall. Employ pest measures like chicken friendly rodent traps to help keep numbers down. I got this PVC feeder from eBay (image right) rodents can't get to the feed as they can't climb the slipery piping.
- Eggs – Collect the chicken/other poultry eggs daily and never leave eggs in the nesting boxes overnight!
- Nesting boxes – Build nesting boxes so they are off the ground and make them climb proof by mounting them on a wall etc.
- Chicks – Keep brooding areas away from the chicken pen, if possible, as chicks can be a target for snakes (pythons love hatchlings). Have a separate enclosure away from the main pen built with snake proof mesh for younger birds until they get big enough.
- Habitat – Try to eliminate snake habitat from around your chicken pen like removing unnecessary wood piles and debris, or long grass.
Physical measures – Along with removing pull factors, to effectively stop or reduce snakes around the chicken pen some physical measures should be taken such as:
- Pen build – Make the outer walls of your chicken/poultry pen out of a snake proof mesh. Remember, some snakes like pythons are great climbers so you might need to fully enclose your pen and also ensure there are no gaps around or under the mesh for snakes to squeeze under.
- Electronic snake deterrents – Like Pestrol Snake Away are said to work by emitting electrical signals and ultrasonic vibrations to deter snakes from a location. Apparently, a single solar powered Pestrol Snake Away unit spike has a radius of about 35 square metres. I personally haven’t tried commercial snake repellents but I do know people who have and they say electronic and ultrasonic snake repellent units do work for them. I may get a couple and test them out for myself one day so I can get an objective view. If you have tried them please let me know what you think on our forum here.
- Snake removal – A professional or someone familiar with snakes should only do this job. Snakes can be territorial and adults will breed up more snakes in your area so removing breeding adult snakes will keep numbers down. I sometimes remove pythons that make my chicken pen home and relocate them to a reserve about 20 km from our property. Often, I’ll see a python in the evening hunting rats around the pen and then it’s gone in the morning.
- Killing – To kill a venomous snake has to be a last resort ONLY to protect life in the moment. A professional snake "dude" WON'T actually kill a snake but instead capture or usher the snake away from your area. Furthermore, all snakes are protected in Australia and therefore illegal to deliberately kill. In most instances, snakes will quickly slither off and never be seen again and this should be our first response – just let it go. Having said that, and although authorities will say "under no circumstances should a snake be harmed," who are they to know every possible "circumstance" a person may encounter with a venomous snake? In my opinion, it is a possibility for a person to be in the unfortunate situation where a venomous snake poses imminent threat to life of a person or other animal (such as a pet dog) and as rare as this occasion might be no court in the world would convict a person of killing a snake unlawfully if it was proven they did it to save life. Let me be clear though, that last sentenance is just my opinion and the real "party line" is killing snakes is illegal… and you shouldn't even attempt it.
Here's me (image above) removing a python from near my quail enclosure – luckily my quail pen is snake proof!
Be particularly careful if you need to walk around your poultry pen at night, especially if it is hot and humid, because snakes will be out and hard to see. Most snakes are long gone before you arrive because they are sensitive to vibrations and scare easily and some can move extremely fast. However, snakes will sometimes stay still and if you accidently step on a snake that’s when it’s likely to bite.
Wearing jeans or long work pants will give some protection from accidental snake bite and so does a good pair of work boots.
If you do find a snake and you’re not sure what you should do then it’s a very good idea to call a professional and have the snake safely removed. Wildlife Officers will say only "qualified" people should ever handle a snake or try to usher it away from where it is not welcome. Most people get bitten by snakes when they try to handle or kill them. Some wildlife officers will remove snakes from private properties as a free service.
Some farmers, people living in remote locations, and others (like me) who see snakes quite regularly don't necessarily need a "qualified" snake wildlife officer to visit each time we encounter a reptile serpent on our property but most of the general population probably do. So if you are reading this article because you're trying to find information about how to safely remove a snake from your property, then you either need the help of a professional or should let the snake slither away in its own good time.
Eastern Brown Snake – second most deadly land snake in the world (behind the Australian Fierce Snake) and hard to see in its natural environment. I found this big fella right outside my chicken pen door – about 1.5 m long (image above)
Employing the above methods to deter snakes should help dramatically in reducing serpents from hanging around your chicken or poultry pen but depending on where you live it won't stop snakes from visiting the pen entirely. Don't let this worry you too much, because even if you live in a high snake area like myself, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever get bitten by one as venomous snakes are usually long gone by the time you reach your chicken pen and pythons won't hurt you anyway. As long as you keep a general awareness you have nothing to worry about and it's certainly not an excuse to NOT keep chickens.
I try to never lose sight of the fact that snakes are innocent native animals that are only ever interested in their prey and mean no deliberate harm to humans. Therefore, harming snakes should never need to be done, under most circumstances, and the best policy is to leave them peacefully slither off into the scrub.
Lastly, if you ever go camping in the Australian bush please keep your sleeping bag rolled up until it’s time to go to bed otherwise you could be in for a nasty surprise…
Want to talk more about snakes? Then, join our forum and let's chat there.
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes…