Backyard chicken keeping can be a rewarding and sometimes surprising experience.
One such unexpected event is the first time you see your chickens chasing and even eating backyard snakes.
If you’re reading this article now, you might have encountered the same scenario (or probably worried that it would happen).
In this guide, we’ll explore why chickens may eat snakes and what this means for their health.
Why Do Chickens Eat Snakes?
Chickens are natural foragers, and their diet typically consists of seeds, insects, small rodents, and even snakes.
This behavior is deeply ingrained in their instincts, dating back to their wild ancestors.
Chickens have a keen sense of sight and movement, making them adept at detecting potential prey.
Snakes, with their slithering motion, can trigger a chicken’s predatory instincts, leading them to investigate and sometimes consume the snake.
Will My Chicken Be Okay After Eating a Snake?
If your chicken can swallow the snake without choking, they should be just fine.
In some cases, a snake may be too large for a chicken to swallow whole, which poses a risk of choking or blockage in the digestive tract.
If you happen to see this in action, use leather gloves or thick gardening gloves with a long-sleeved shirt to pull the snake back out of the chicken.
If you live in an area where venomous snakes are common, it may not be worth the risk.
Either remove the snake within striking range or leave the chicken alone to work through the predicament on their own.
If you choose to kill the snake, beware that it is still capable of biting, even if beheaded.
If the chicken successfully swallows the snake, they should be okay.
Chickens possess a unique digestive system that enables them to consume various foods, including snakes.
Their digestive tract includes the crop, where food is initially stored, and the gizzard, a muscular organ that grinds down ingested items with the help of small stones or grit.
This adaptation allows chickens to process grains and seeds and tougher substances like meat, bones, scales, and cartilage, making it possible for them to consume snakes.
The digestive enzymes in their system break down proteins and other nutrients efficiently.
However, the size of the snake and the chicken’s ability to break it down depend on factors like the chicken’s size and age.
What To Do If Your Chicken Eats a Snake
After the chicken has consumed a snake, closely observe its behavior.
Look for signs of distress, difficulty breathing, or any unusual behavior that may indicate digestive issues.
Offering grit to your chickens can aid in the digestion of tougher substances.
You should always have grit available for your chickens, but this is even more important with the ingestion of something as big as a snake.
Grit acts as a grinding agent in the gizzard, helping break down bones and cartilage from the snake.
How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Coop and Chickens
Minimize the risk of snake encounters by securing your chicken coop.
Use hardware cloth with small openings to prevent snakes from entering, and regularly inspect the coop for any gaps or openings.
Use this hardware cloth or concrete on the floor of the coop and the run if possible. Snakes can and will use holes in the floor to enter the coop.
Keeping the coop and surrounding areas clean helps reduce the presence of rodents, which may attract snakes.
Remove potential hiding spots for snakes, such as tall grass or debris.
Always offer your chickens a balanced and nutritious diet. Chickens with proper nutrition are less likely to actively seek out alternative food sources, reducing the chances of encountering and consuming snakes.
Make egg boxes more difficult for snakes to access.
Larger snakes that your chickens cannot eat are usually in the coop to score a few free meals–typically your chicken eggs.
Egg boxes should be off the ground and collected daily. Always look into the box before reaching your hand in there.
Plant natural snake repellents around the coop and run. Garlic and onions are known to deter snakes.
Chickens tend not to like these plants either, which means they should leave them alone and not eat them.
Another option is “Snake Away,” a snake-repelling granule product that repels venomous and non-venomous snakes.
What Kinds of Snakes Are Most Commonly Near Chicken Coops?
Snakes can generally be classified into two categories: venomous and non-venomous.
While some overlap exists, the ability to identify snakes with medically significant venom is crucial for the safety of both you and your chickens.
Encountering a venomous snake in your chicken coop requires leaving it undisturbed and seeking professional assistance.
Identification of venomous snakes is particularly important in North America, where only four groups pose a threat: copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes.
Among these, coral snakes are uncommon and small, posing minimal danger if left undisturbed.
Rattlesnakes, found across the U.S., are identifiable by the rattle at the tip of their tail, producing a loud rattling sound when threatened.
Copperheads, prevalent in the Southeastern U.S., feature a tan color with a distinctive brownish orange “Hershey’s Kisses” pattern and a tapered triangular head.
Cottonmouths, another Southeastern species, are dark black or brown, with a pale white mouth and a distinctly triangular head.
They are often found near water, so proximity to water near chicken coops may increase the risk.
Common Non-Venomous Snakes
While non-venomous snakes pose no direct harm, some species can be problematic for chicken keepers, especially when consuming your precious eggs.
It’s important to note that these snakes must be relatively large to threaten chickens or their eggs.
Smaller snakes will not interact with your chickens or may be targeted prey. Your chickens will NOT consume these large snakes unless they are very young.
Rat Snakes, often called “chicken snakes,” are the most common nuisance for chicken keepers.
Found across the U.S., these large snakes, reaching up to 5 feet in length, come in various colors, including black, yellow, and striped, or gray with brown patterning.
They are notorious for their preference for eating eggs; they don’t hunt chickens.
Corn Snakes, primarily an East Coast species, can sometimes grow large enough to threaten chicken eggs.
Identified by their bright orange color with distinct reddish-orange squares on their back and a band of the same color across their eyes, corn snakes are among the non-venomous species that may threaten your chickens’ eggs.
My Chicken Ate a Snake: FAQ
Will Chickens Eat Snakes?
Chickens are natural foragers with a keen instinct for hunting small prey.
They may eat snakes they come across, as it aligns with their natural hunting behavior.
Will Copperheads Go After Chickens?
While copperheads are venomous snakes, they typically avoid confrontations with larger animals like chickens.
However, if cornered or threatened, they may bite in self-defense. Proper coop management and snake prevention measures can minimize the risk.
Do Chickens Eat Garter Snakes
Chickens may eat garter snakes if they find small enough ones.
They are non-venomous and relatively small, so the overall risk to chickens is minimal.
How Do You Keep Snakes Out of a Chicken Coop?
The best way to keep snakes away from the coop is to seal entry points or elevate the coop so it isn’t directly on the ground.
It also pays to keep chicken feed out of reach, keep the rodent population in check, and clear any tall vegetation from around your coop.
My Chicken Ate a Snake: Before You Go…
As long as your chicken doesn’t suffocate or choke while eating said snake, they will probably be fine.
It’s rare for snakes to bite chickens, and generally, the two avoid each other.
While snakes are typically a good source of protein, encouraging your chickens to hunt and eat them is not a good idea because snakes are more of a choking hazard than most other small creatures your chickens are inclined to hunt and eat.
While it may be strange to see your chickens occasionally chase and eat a small garter snake, it is usually no big deal, and your chickens will be fine.