There are very few things that will get your heart pumping like stumbling onto a snake you didn’t expect to find. The urge to go on the rampage and rid your space of all things that slither, is something I can relate to. Fortunately, after my heart rate (and voice level) comes back down to its regular range, I remind myself that all creatures have a purpose – even the icky ones!
Chickens can move incredibly fast with their beaks. We hand feed our flock treats and to be honest, I have a really tough time seeing the actual move. Their posture will warn you of the coming strike, but my eyes simply aren’t good enough to see it happen. Armed with this kind of speed, a chicken can absolutely kill a snake – though it would not be a one strike kill.
Further adding to the snake’s bad luck is the fact that chickens are a flock animal. And if a snake is unable to evade one chicken’s fast strike, then it has no chance of evading a flock of chickens, if they are intent on killing a snake.
Do Chickens Keep Snakes Away?
You would think that with such an imminent threat around, snakes would avoid any place with chickens. But I can tell you, that hasn’t been the case for our flock. Even in our northern climate, where the ‘slithering scalies’ are not as prevalent as they are in the south, I still see quite a number of snakes.
To my knowledge, there is no direct correlation between the number of chickens and snakes in any given space. What I have found is a direct correlation between snakes and mice in my backyard. And contributing to the mice population is the fact that mice eat chicken feed.
So why are there so many snakes if chickens can kill them?
Because while a chicken can kill a snake, that doesn’t mean that it will kill the snake. Case in point, my flock recently stumbled onto a small snake roughly nine inches in length. There is no doubt in my mind that these birds could have made short work of the little reptile. But much to my surprise, other than 5 or 6 quick pecks and tosses, the chickens soon lost interest and simply walked away.
It’s important to note that my flock has no rooster – meaning no ‘alpha’ to get worked up over the things. If there had been a rooster that felt the snake was a threat to his girls, then things probably wouldn’t have worked out so well for the snake.
Also worth noting is my flock is free-range, meaning they have lots of stimulation. If a small snake slithers into an area with a bunch of bored chickens, then you can bet on that snake having a bad day.
Are Chickens Immune To Snake Venom?
I have found no documentation indicating that chickens are immune to venom, though I can understand why people would think that.
A chicken’s feathers will do a pretty good job of deflecting a snake’s fangs. This prevents the venom from reaching the blood where it can kill the bird. However, if a venomous snake were to strike the chicken in a fleshy part, such as the comb or wattle, then venom could be directly injected into the chicken where it is certain to have an effect.
As mentioned above, chickens are incredibly fast. They also tend to move in a jerky, bobbing sort of motion, which I think might be difficult for snakes to respond to. In observing the ‘showdown’ between my flock and the garden snake, I found that the chickens easily evaded the snakes strikes, often stepping towards the snake immediately afterward. At no point, did the flock exhibit any kind of ‘concerned or threatened’ behavior.
Will A Snake Kill A Chicken?
There are two different points to make regarding a snake’s ability to threaten your flock. The first is self-defense on the part of the snake and the second is a snake being hungry.
With regards to self-defense, a venomous snake does have the potential to kill a chicken – though, as mentioned before, a chicken’s speed and feathers provides really good odds against a fatal encounter.
With regards to a snake hunting a chicken because it is hungry, a snake would have to be fairly sizable to do this. A full grown Jersey Giant rooster, for example, can easily weigh 13 pounds. That’s quite a bit more than your average garden snake could handle.
What is much more common of an issue for the average backyard flock, is snakes feeding on chicks or eggs. Any snake capable of catching and eating a rat, is certainly more than capable of killing a chick. And of course, any egg left unattended is simply free food for the reptile.
How To Keep Your Chickens Safe From Snakes
When it comes to snakes in the chicken coop, there is more at risk than just the chickens. YOU are at risk!
Any snake caught off guard – where it doesn’t have the time to flee – will strike at you as you go about collecting eggs. This can be very bad. For this reason, I strongly urge those who live in an area with larger snakes to take extra precautions.
The best way to prevent snakes from getting into the coop is to limit the ways in – this means no hole larger than .5 inches.
But obviously, a chicken can’t fit through a hole that small. This means that there will always be at least chicken-sized door for a snake access. Here are some other things you can do to protect yourself and your flock.
- Protect the eggs – Allowing your hens to lay eggs at ground level is just begging for a snake to move in. Make sure that your flock is laying up off the ground as this is good not only for snakes, but other problem wildlife creatures as well.
- Collect the eggs regularly – If there are no eggs to eat, then there is no purpose for the snake to visit the nesting box. While it’s doubtful that the smell of food would go unnoticed, it is most certain that the egg thief would go home hungry if you have already collected all of the eggs. Also, the regular presence of human activity is less than desirable for a reptile that prefers stealth over confrontation.
- Mow the lawn – This is one of those things that I advocate…without actually having any proof. Why? Because I have no idea how many snakes are hiding in the tall grass. There could be 100 or there could be none. So how can I know what percentage of snakes that I do see represent? What I do know, however, is that a snake will almost always slither away at my approach. And with a short lawn, this means that the snake can see me coming earlier, as well as, I can see them LEAVING earlier…and if you ask me, that’s a win-win!
- Protect the chicks – Chicks are as helpless as they are adorable – which is to say a lot. Any creature that is capable of capturing and killing the super-quick field mouse, will have no problems with a chick. We have found that the best way to protect our chicks is to raise them in a ‘Garage Brooder’. Not only are the chicks always within ear shot, but any potential threat has to enter a human’s dwelling, which generally isn’t preferable (not to say impossible, just not preferable). For a snake, this means slithering in across the open concrete of our garage floor where it is exposed.
- Reduce the mice/rat population – Snakes and mice/rats go hand in hand. Nature is constantly working to maintain a balance and if there are a whole bunch of rodents, then it stands to reason that there will be a need for a whole bunch of critters that like to eat the rodents. And snakes are definitely on that list!
Unfortunately, this is where the flock owner is at a disadvantage. Mice and rats will eat chicken feed, meaning the more your feed your flock, the more you are providing food for the unwanted rodents…and in turn all the things that eat the rodents! It’s a viscous cycle that is best dealt with by regular removal of any feed waste; namely the feed that has fallen to the ground and is not being eaten by the flock.
### Important Note ###
If you find that your flock is anxious or unwilling to enter the coop, take note of this as it can be a really good indicator that a predator is inside. Clearly a chicken is not going to share a small nesting box with a sizable snake. So it always pays to be observant of your flock’s behavior.
This past summer, our family had a small snake incident.
We have a family activity of feeding our flock treats after dinner. It’s an easy thing to do together, that just takes a few minutes and has proven to be enjoyable no matter how many times we do it. Hand-feeding chickens is just fun!
Well, one particular evening, our 7 year old managed to beat us to the pen where he promptly ran inside…screamed and then ran right back out! Mom, who was only a few steps behind, managed a little better (but not much!)
Laying in the middle of the pen was a garden snake, maybe 30 inches long.
I was astonished!
An entire flock of 13 chickens had allowed this snake to sun itself, in the middle of their pen. This was not what I would have expected. Those birds were more than capable of chasing the snake off, but instead were busy taking dirt baths and relaxing under the bushes. Maybe if I had a rooster standing watch, the snake would not have been so comfortable. As it was, I ‘shooshed’ him off!