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Snake in the Duck House! 9 Tips to Help Repel Snakes

Snakes are often the bane of the backyard chicken keeper. Lured to the coop area by the promise of an easy meal (eggs, small chicks, ducklings or sometimes bantams as well as the mice drawn to the coop), even non-venomous snakes can pose a real threat.

Snakes can squeeze through the tiniest of cracks or smallest of spaces and therefore are very hard to keep out of a run or pen.

After our recent run-in with a black rat snake, I revised my snake defenses and wanted to share with you.

I got quite a scare one morning this past spring when I opened the duck house to find this black rat snake inside! The poor ducks scrambled out as fast as they could, unharmed, but visibly shaken.  

~not what I expect (or want) to see when I let the ducks out in the morning~
Our setting duck and her eggs didn't fare quite as well - the snake had eaten three of the ten Silver Appleyard duck hatching eggs right out from under her. Needless to say, both I and the ducks were pretty traumatized. 

~Custard, shaken over having to share her eggs with the snake~
Generally snakes will get caught when they squeeze in through a small hole, then eat something which then makes it impossible for them to squeeze back out.

In this case, it was clear the snake wasn't able to escape the duck house or pen after eating the eggs, but I was stumped as to how it got in in the first place.

~unable to escape, the snake had to wait until morning when I opened up the pen~
Our duck pen is constructed of 1/2" welded wire. All the vents in the duck house are covered with the same. I went over the house and pen with a fine-tooth comb checking for a larger hole.

There was none.  A snake this size can't get through an opening that small even with an empty belly.

~1/2" welded wire on a pen or vent will keep out all but the smallest snakes and small field mice~
It wasn't until I set up my Trail Cam and did a bit of hard thinking that I realized the snake had merely slithered up the ramp and through the open front door of the duck house during the day and hidden in the straw until dark, undetected.

~the three duck eggs are clearly visible inside this snake~
~photo courtesy National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States~
According to the Audubon Society Field Guide, Black Rat Snakes are found in nearly the entire mid-Atlantic region. This is the type of snake that we primarily have to deal with. Technically the 'good guys', they eat not only mice and voles but also baby Copperheads which also live in this area.

While they will bite if provoked or cornered, they are non-venomous. They are constrictors, meaning they often will suffocate even prey that is too large to swallow and kill it in the process.

They can climb and swim...and pretty much will live anywhere - in the woods, under a board, by the roadside, inside an abandoned building.

~while non-venomous, black rat snakes will bite if cornered or provoked~

One day last summer, I found a black rat snake wrapped around one of our full-grown Pekin ducks' bills, in the process of trying to wrap itself around the duck's neck to strangle it.

The duck had apparently tried to eat the snake tail first as the snake tried to constrict the duck. The duck couldn't open her bill because the snake was around it and the snake couldn't get away because the duck had swallowed half of it.

Fortunately I was able to unwind the snake from the duck's bill and extricate it from the duck's mouth and each went their separate way. These snakes definitely pose a potential threat.

So, bottom line, you don't want these guys hanging around inside your run or coop/duck house. Here are some tips on making your coop area less desirable:

1.) Keep your coop mouse-free. Read HERE for tips.
2.) Collect eggs as often as you can and leave golf balls in the nests.
3.) Use the smallest gauge wire possible on all vents and your pen/run.
4.) Trim tall grasses and remove fallen logs and branches around the run where snakes can hide.
5.) Check nesting boxes and floor of coop/house before locking up at night for hiding snakes.
6.) Sprinkle sulfur/cayenne pepper around the perimeter of your run and coop or duck house.
7) Spray garlic juice, cinnamon and/or clove oil around your coop.
8) Plant wormwood or garlic around your coop and run area.
9) Circle an old rubber hose, thick rope or lead line around the perimeter of your coop - according to John Wayne, a snake won't cross it.

Note: moth balls are often recommended as a snake repellent but since they are poisonous, I do NOT recommend using moth balls around your flock or other animals. It is also illegal to use them outside.

I have been implementing these steps and although we've seen snakes in the vicinity of our run, we haven't seen any actually IN the run or duck house since spring.

I think the duck house is their more desirable destination since the duck nesting boxes are floor level, so easily accessible, as opposed to the coop where the boxes are up about four feet off the ground, but to be on the safe side, I ringed everything with the sulfur mix.

~A wide swath of sulfur/cayenne to prevent snakes from entering the coop when the door is open~
~Since snakes often use mouse holes and tunnels to move around undetected, I sprinkled the sulfur mix around any mouse holes I found. I added a mint leaf or two to repel any mice~
~worried about our duckling, Ginger, in addition to the double layer of wire on the grow-out pen, I added a ring of sulfur~
Since snakes often use the tunnels that field mice and rats dig to move around, search for rodents and hide in, often your first indication that there are mice and/or snakes lurking will be small quarter-sized holes around your coop area.

Some suggest that leaving golf balls in the nesting boxes works to rid your coop of snakes. They eat the golf balls and subsequently die since they can't digest them.

Since the black rat snake is beneficial in many ways, that method, or otherwise killing them should be a last resort, but sometimes if the snake keeps coming back, killing it might be your only option if you don't want to lose your eggs and chicks. An easy meal is just too much of a draw for the snakes sadly. 

So far, the sulfur seems to be working well. It's perfectly safe to use around the chickens and I merely reapply it after a heavy rain.

I also use a rake to stir up the straw on the floor and also check the nesting boxes carefully each evening before closing up the coop and duck house to ensure I don't inadvertently lock another snake INSIDE!

~an easy, safe, effective, inexpensive solution~
~sulfur along with small-gauge wire works to deter snakes~
~I admit I hate snakes, but we're trying to live in harmony~
So far so good.  Hopefully we've reached a truce of sorts. If the snake leaves us our eggs and doesn't bother our flock, we'll be perfectly happy to let it eat all the mice and baby Copperheads it wants in peace.

Keeping the synergy of nature in balance is always the preferred method. I admit that even looking at these photos creeps me out because I HATE snakes, but I think I hate the thought of encountering a venomous Copperhead snake even more!

If you can't find straight sulfur at your feed store, Bonide makes a great all-natural product that's safe around your chickens.


Have you had a problem with snakes? What have you tried that has worked to keep them at their distance? I would love to hear.


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