Snakes have a bad reputation in most places, from the Biblical snake in Eden that was literally the cause of all evil in the world, to the Persian myth of the Serpent King, to over-the-top modern horror junkets, like Anaconda.
It’s important to remember, though, that snakes are also fascinating and beautiful species, and the vast majority pose no danger to humans (and those that do are almost never in a hurry to prove it).
If you see a snake in your yard (even a venomous one!), there’s no reason your immediate reaction should be to try to kill it.
In fact, snakes can be beneficial to a yard or garden by controlling rodent populations, reducing the spread of Lyme disease, and providing food for birds and larger mammals.
However, while snakes may be beneficial for their ecosystems, they certainly aren’t beneficial to anybody’s chicken coop. Eggs, in particular, are a major attractant for snakes, and they will eat every egg they can get their jaws around for as long as you make it easy for them to do so. Luckily, there are several simple ways to keep snakes away from, and out of, your chicken coop without endangering the snakes, the ecosystems that need them, or your egg supply.
#1: Clear the Area Around the Chicken Coop
A chicken coop is always going to be attractive to snakes, but you can make your yard less attractive by making it difficult for a snake to hide there. There are many common yard features that can make attractive hiding places for snakes, including:
- Tall grasses
- Rock piles
- Wood piles
- Low bushes
- Gardening equipment
- Raised plant beds
Eliminating any of these hiding places from your yard will make it much less appealing for snakes to hide and hunt there. Mow tall grass regularly, especially around the coop, and pull out any tufts of weeds or flowers that are getting too big. If you need to have a shed, outbuilding, wood pile, raised bed, or other structure that could hide a snake in your yard or garden, try to put it as far away from the coop as possible.
For sheds and outbuildings, the space underneath the building will be the most appealing to snakes. Try to make this space as inaccessible as possible, ideally by sinking the walls of the building at least six inches underground. If this isn’t possible, or the building is already installed, try to do the same with hardware mesh around the edge of the structure. If your yard seems especially attractive to serpents, consider getting an expert in to see if they’re hiding out under your own house, and close off those spaces, if possible.
#2: Use Hardware Mesh and Sink Your Fencing Deep Underground
Unsurprisingly, the previous advice about keeping snakes out from under sheds also applies to the chicken coop. It’s important to use hardware mesh or hardware cloth for this, and not chicken wire. Chicken wire has its uses – it’s great for keeping free ranging hens out of the vegetable patch, for instance – but it is not a predator deterrent, and you can tell just by looking at it. The holes in chicken wire aren’t small enough to keep out skunks and weasels, let alone snakes. Hardware mesh is much finer, and is the right tool for the job.
Whatever your fences or walls are made out of, reinforce the bottom three feet with hardware mesh, and then sink the mesh an additional six inches to a foot underground, as snakes (and other potential egg thieves) can be accomplished burrowers. For extra security, mount hardware mesh underneath the floor of the coop, making sure to secure it as tightly as possible to avoid any gaps. Remember to check the integrity of your fences, walls, and mesh regularly, as wear and tear can quickly move things out of place, and the smallest gap can be an opening for an opportunistic snake.
#3: Keep Feed Sealed and Eliminate Places Where Water Can Accumulate
Chicken feed, bird seed, and similar feedstuffs are not inherently attractive to snakes, which are mostly carnivores, but they are highly attractive to animals that are attractive to snakes. Common feed munchers include:
These and other furry pests will love going dumpster diving in your chicken feed, and the more these animals make a home in your yard, the more a snake will want to set up shop there as well. Open buckets or warped concrete where standing water can collect are a problem for the same reason.
If possible, store your chicken feed in the house. If the coop is too far away, store it in a sturdy, sealable plastic or metal bin, preferably in a shed or coop attachment for extra protection. Depending on where you live, you may want to go the extra mile and invest in a heavy-duty, bearproof storage bin. Bears may seem cuter than snakes, but they are infinitely more dangerous to have hanging around your yard.
#4: Grow Plants That Keep Snakes Away
The general rule, as stated above, is that lots of plant growth is an attractant to snakes because it gives them a cozy place to hide, but there are also some plants that can do the opposite. Perhaps the most well-known of these is garlic, which gives off a strong smell that snakes (and many other critters) strongly dislike. Alliums, in general (e.g., garlic, onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives), aren’t safe for most animals, and they will all serve as a repellent to some degree. Garlic is the most effective of them, but be sure to keep any dogs or cats away – alliums are toxic to household pets as well. It is also important to note that you should plant these in an area your chickens do not frequent. If consumed by your flock, garlic and allium plants will negatively affect the taste of your eggs!
If you’re particularly worried about this, lemongrass is another fragrant plant that snakes dislike. Its citrusy scent derives from a different compound than the sharper smell of alliums, so it might be more pleasant for some people, and will also not pose any danger to a plant-munching pet.
Marigolds are another great choice for a snake-deterring garden plant. The interlocking nature and complexity of their root systems makes it hard for snakes to navigate in between and through a marigold bed, and so they generally won’t do it.
#5: Make an All-Natural Repellent Out of Garlic, Salt, and Onions
Even if you’re not much of a gardener, you can still benefit from the snake-repelling powers of allium scents. Make a mix of crushed garlic and sea salt (which irritates the skin, but doesn’t harm the snake) and sprinkle it around the house. For extra oomph, add onion to the mix; boil the garlic and onion in water for about five minutes, then let it sit overnight. In the morning, add salt, shake, and spray wherever you’re worried about snakes.
Snakes aren’t a danger in most yards, but they are a major pain in chicken coops. Fortunately, a few simple, safe steps are all it takes to keep them out of your yard, out of your coop, and out of your hair.