As the weather starts to warm up, it will not be long before all sorts of creepy, crawly, and slithery things emerge from their winter hiding spots. It is the slithery thing in particular that are of great concern to chicken owners. Not only will snakes eat eggs and young chicks, but a large enough snake can take down an adult bird as well. Thanks to the exotic pet trade gone bad, pythons are breeding in the wild and as a result, small animals are disappearing at an alarming rate.
When it comes to snakes, deciding what to do about them can be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, snakes can be quite beneficial. Certain species actually eat other snakes, including those that are venomous. If you have a mouse problem, snakes can also be helpful in staying on top of it. Of course, they may also stay on top of eggs and chicks, which is a problem in itself. Snakes that are non-venomous are not much of a threat to humans, unless you live in areas of the south where snakes sizeable enough to kill a person do now exist. That is not to say a non-venomous snake will not posture and even bite you in self-defense; any snake can and will bite, which can be painful and might become infected. A bite from a venomous snake can make you extremely ill and cost you limbs or even your life. These are the things to consider when making plans for handling any snakes you might find. There are lots of arguments for how to deal with snakes, but it all comes down to what is safe and tolerable on your property and in your coop.
Something to remember about snakes is that they can make their way into tight spaces. After feeding, however, their girth is often too large to get back out. Because of this, you might get a snake surprise when an unwelcome intruders makes its way into your coop and feasts on a few eggs, then becomes too bulky to escape. This will likely scare you, but also your chickens, and sharing coop space can be of great stress and trauma to them until the intruder is removed. They can also climb and swim, which makes considering points of coop entry necessary from all angles.
To keep snakes out of your coop, a lot of people will tell you that rodent control is important. While this is true, eradicating rodents alone will not keep snakes from trying to gain entry to your coop. Snakes will eat eggs, chicks, and possibly even chickens regardless of whether or not you have a rodent problem. A meal is a meal whether it has feathers or fur. One sure benefit to eradicating rodents, however, is that snakes cannot use rodent tunnels to access your coop if rodents are not present to dig such tunnels. Since rodents are a problem, it is wise to get rid of them, but do not expect that alone to solve a snake problem.
Be sure your coop construction is secure enough to keep snakes out. This means using wire with small holes that is secure all the way around as well as at the top and bottom. The goal is to have no entry point that a snake can fit through, but don't forget about any windows or doors you may leave open during the day as this, too, presents an opportunity for a snake to slither inside to lay in wait. Because of this, you should always check your coop for intruders before your bed your chickens down for the night.
Remove anything from your yard and coop area that makes for good snake habitat. If you have scrap piles of downed tree limbs or lumber, this sort of thing is just begging for a snake to take up residence. Also your enemy are tall grasses where snakes can hide.
Rumored to be useful snake repellents are sulfur and cayenne pepper. By mixing these items together and sprinkling the mixture around your coop, it is thought that snakes will be put off and stay away. We have tried this and have not seen snakes in the coop, but the jury is still out as to whether or not this method actually works or if it happens to be coincidence. If you chose to try this method, do not forget to reapply it after heavy rains.
Another suggestion is to use golf balls in nesting boxes to trick snakes into thinking they are eggs. In theory, once the snake consumes a golf ball, it will die. This is another solution on which the jury is out; even if it does work, the result is a dead snake, not a deterred snake, and keeping the snake out of the coop in the first place is a by far better option.
As spring is upon us and hungry snakes become more active, be sure to give your coop the attention it needs to be and remain snake-free. By making your coop inaccessible to snakes, you are also keeping other predators out at the same time, so in truth snake-proofing is a job well worth doing. Ideally your chickens will be kept safe to live out their days and hungry snakes will have no choice but to move along on their way. Perhaps your chickens will even do their part to tackle the snake problem as well!