Friday, May 4, 2007

A Stealthy Egg-napper

People often ask what predators I deal with at the farm, and I recite the roster: Stray dog, coyote, fox, raccoon, skunk, oppossum, hawks.

Tonight I was reminded of one that slips my mind. Not surprising, since it can slide through the tiniest spaces. The snake.

I went to gather eggs tonight, and found very few. This has been happening every now and then, and I always wonder who the culprit is...or did the hens just have a bad day? Are they out of oyster shell and thus inclined to eat their eggs? Has it been raining and dismal for several days?

Then I looked over in the corner where a few hens have decided to build their own nest, for some unknown reason. Summer cottage, perhaps, instead of always hanging out in their high-rise condo (metal nest boxes, 3 nests high by about 8 nests long--one of those incredible auction deals where it's the end of a long hot day in a remote area; most of the stuff was rusty or chipped, and ordinary; and as the auctioneer wearily picks up his stool to walk to the truck you point to something leaning against the shed and say, "Isn't that going to sell?" and he says, "I dunno, you want it?" and you say "Ten dollars?" knowing the smaller ones are nearly $200 in the catalog and he shrugs like someone who got up way too early and has done a day's work and then some, and he tells the clerk to write it down and then it's yours. So maybe it was worth driving all the way out there anyhow, to see the sad dilapidated house with no paint and the general wreakage of a "home place" that's mainly been home to a bunch of pack rats (four footed kind) for years.)

A couple hens are drowsily checking out something out near their summer cottage, awakened by my flashlight.

There is a large snake coiled on the clutch of eggs, and it is stretching its mouth around one of them. I'm pretty comfortable around snakes (though they startle me when I'm not expecting them), and have never yet seen a poisonous one on the farm. And if there's ever a time when it's safe to handle a snake, it's when it's got its mouth entirely full of egg. So I go grab some leather gloves (just to be prudent), and (I actually remembered!) the camera.

Now my concern is, whether to leave the snake there or relocate it. After all, it is eating my profit. But, on the other hand, it probably eats mice, too--and the mice can cost me a lot of money in chicken feed. Plus, if I moved it out to the wilderness area, it would likely find wild bird eggs and chicks to eat. Maybe I could sacrifice a few eggs for the same of the wild birds. Maybe I could relocate it to the pen with the pullets (young chickens just starting to lay, who lay small "practice" eggs that sell much cheaper than my huge hen's eggs), so it could eat eggs of lesser value.

After some thought, I decided to relocate it to the galvanized shed where garden tools, feed, fencing supplies, etc. are stored. There seem to be occasional mice there, to encourage the snake to change his diet. Don't want him hardening his arteries by eating such a high-cholesterol diet! Nice lean mice would be better.....
I believe this is a black rat snake, one of the more commonly seen species at the farm. His belly is mottled dark and light with random bits of reddish and yellowish.
Other herpish residents at the farm include garter snakes (common) and green racers (only one sighting). I'm always happy to see them...I know that in general they're on my side, helping keep rodent populations in balance.

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