Here are some interesting items that popped up on my to-do list yesterday:
A cat snuck into the garage to birth her kittens. After waiting for her to move them into a cozy box (ahem, a beer box) I set nearby, I threw away the gardening gloves she used as a nest and scrubbed the floor.
But that was not the most interesting animal-related job yesterday.
I have been trying very hard to leave the chickens all to the kids. I have not even seen them in a week. Last night, at dusk, I was outside with the kids when it was evening-check-the-chickens-time. So I went along. Cowgirl and Shooter went to get some feed while Farmer Boy took me to the chicken house. We stepped in and I mentioned it was time for them to sweep up chicken poop again. The chicks crowded around the door, cheeping frantically.
“Where is the seventh chick?” I asked Farmer Boy.
“Wha?” He responded.
“I only see six chickens.” I explained.
“That’s how many we have, Mom.” He retorted.
We continued to bicker as I illustrated that we bought eight and one died, leaving seven, and that the last time I was in the chicken house there were seven, and now there were four dark chickens and two light chickens, which left one dark chicken missing. I looked in the little lighted hutch, where they *always* are – I was kind of surprised that none of them were in there, including the missing #7. Farmer Boy helped me look while he argued with me, each of us poking around old chicken raising equipment My Farmer’s grandmother used when she sold eggs and fryers fifty years ago.
Just as his brother and sister arrived with the chicken feed, Farmer boy lifted the lid on the long, narrow bin of an egg-collecting roost mounted to the back wall. I swear to you I saw that child jump right out of his skin as all the air whooshed from his lungs in an involuntary stream of primordial panic that sounded like “uuuuuuhhhhhHHSNAKESTWOSNAKESTWOHUGESNAKES!” As he slammed the lid back down.
By now it was nearly dark, so we needed a Maglight (big, powerful flashlight – farmers always keep these around – and cops). I held the light with one hand and used a garden hoe in the other to open the little metal door and sure enough, curled together on the mesh base of the rooster were two snakes.
I was under the misconception that they were bull snakes because of their size, but after looking I think they were probably rat snakes because they never used the defensive behavior common to bull snakes of flattening and raising their heads and hissing. I’m not certain though, as rat snakes are said to grow to 42-inches and these snakes were both four-plus feet long.
But back to the story…
I really didn’t want to kill the snakes…I’m one of those people who believes everything has a purpose and we upset the natural balance when we arbitrarily eliminate anything for our own purposes without considering the bigger picture.
But they were living. in. the. chicken. house. I could see one of them was as big around as my forearm, hence my impression that they were bull snakes. If it were that big around, it might be nearly six feet long.
My clever idea was a five-gallon bucket with a lid. One kid was a flashlight holder, the others were chicken herders. By now it was well-past dusk and we weren’t getting much visual help from our friend, the sun. Using the previously mentioned garden hoe, I opened the metal door and proceeded to drag the snakes out into the bucket below.
It really seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well, big snake immediately smelled a rat, uncoiled from her admirer and headed for the back of the rooster. Skinnier snake went right into the bucket (I wish you could have heard the kid/chicken racket going on behind me – it was freaking deafening) so I reached the hoe back into the roost and started to drag chubby out. As I got the hoe back to the bucket, the smaller snake pops back out, grabs the hoe and in a panic starts heading my way up the handle.
The kids and chickens erupted.
I was twisting the hoe, hooking the smaller snake and pulling him back towards the end, which was a good plan. Except that in doing so I let the bigger snake go.
All around me there was absolute pan-delirium. Every other creature in the little hen house was flapping every appendage they were attached to and letting out whatever noises they’d been managing to keep inside.
I’m sweating like a marathoner. I’m thinking I need to re-hook them both at the same time, because this taking turns bit isn’t working for schnitzel. I’m crouching down, head cocked to see inside the narrowest opening under the roost, both arms out with my trusty hoe extended, trying to keep my knees out of the chicken poop. At this exact moment, one of the white hens (who I’m now mentally referring to as Jackwagon) completely flipped out. Which is understandable. Except that she landed on my shoulder.
I screamed like a six-year-old girl in a haunted-house.
The kids laughed for hours about that. I think they were still laughing about it in their sleep.
After I regrouped (*why* do people not keep a stash of liquor in enclosed livestock houses? I always need a drink when I’m in them, sorting calves, playing midwife or trying to CATCH A MOTHEREFFING SNAKE), my plan backfired when the snakes split up, heading for different hiding places. The smaller snake headed out the back of the roost and up the wall to hide behind an old metal sheet of…well something or other My Farmer’s Grandpa thought he might need one day. You would think he was levitating based on the sounds coming from all the creatures sharing the hen house with me at that moment. Bigger snake curled up in the farthest back corner of the roost.
So plan B – remove chickens from the house for the night. This involved putting together the never-used dog crate, one child standing watch over the snake locations while the other two assembly-lined the chickens out the door. This is the first time they have ever been cooperative about being held. Half an hour passed during this discombobulated relocation, and it was completely dark when My Farmer drove in to find us gypsy-wagoning the chickens across the lawn. (Stupid spell check, I’m well aware that ‘gypsy-wagoning’ is not a word, I just made it up for humorous effect.)
It’s always embarrassing (and hot) when the man shows up and takes ten minutes to tie up what you’ve been working on for an hour. This time I got to be the flashlight-holder, shovel-hander. The children were hysterical, watching through the windows of the chicken house and narrating everything that was happening. I must say, the fact that their comments were muffled through a wall and the absent chickens made his job much quieter than mine…that must be why he never screamed.
I wonder if he finds it embarrassing – and hot – when I show up as the children are running amok, filthy and feral, and ten minutes later they are shining and angelic as they say bedtime prayers? Or when something unexpected comes up (which is pretty much every single day in agriculture) and he requires sustenance and in ten minutes he is eating a hot meal or toting a lunch box that’s filled with fresh, healthy food? I think it is safe to say no. But he probably thinks it’s hot when I run a tractor, sort cattle or haul a trailer – though not embarrassing because he can do all those things a thousand times better than me.
Once it was all over, the children got to hold and appreciate the snakes. We had some interesting conversations about involuntary muscle spasms and how snakes unlock their jaws. We also discussed my previously-mentioned point that all creatures have a purpose and should be allowed to live – just not in the freaking chicken house. I also told Farmer Boy that he found the seventh chicken, referring to the bulge in the better-fed snake which had given me the impression that she was gigantic – but actually just that one part of her was. Judging from the location of the bulge, I would guess they kids’ foul have been living in terror for several days. The lesson here? Count. your. livestock.
I plugged one last night, but on the list for today is check more carefully for holes in the hen house.