The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.

Chickens Again, Part I

Getting started with a new batch of chickens.

Penny with Chicks
Penny suspected trouble when I got into the truck with this little box.

A few weeks ago — just a few days after returning from my 2-month California trip, in fact — I bought 8 chicks. I set them up in my shed, in the stock tank I’d bought last year for my poor man’s hot tub.

Chicks in my Shed
My little chickies, huddled together in their nursery.

I’d had chickens before, in Arizona. They’re a lot of fun and you really can’t beat fresh eggs. Because I knew I’d have chickens again, when I moved to Washington, I took along most of my chicken-rearing equipment: feeders, waterers, and heat lamp. That saved me a bunch of money when it came time to get these started. And the stock tank in the shed really beats the cardboard boxes I used to use in my garage to get the chicks started.

The Chicken Yard

Of course, they couldn’t stay in the shed. Eventually, they’d need a chicken coop and a fenced-in yard. Like Wickenburg, this area has coyotes and I’d have to protect the chickens from them. It also has large hawks, eagles — including Bald Eagles — and owls, so a net across the top would be vital. I wanted the chicken yard to be large enough to accommodate all the chickens and, with the real possibility of free-range egg sales, even more chickens in the future. And although I only wanted to build it once, I didn’t want it to be permanent. (I’ve come to realize that I don’t want anything in my life to be permanent because nothing really is. But that’s a philosophical discussion best saved for another blog post.)

I explored many options. “Hog panels” looked good, but the only ones available in the area were very large and very costly. Someone suggested a dog kennel and even sent me to Costco in search of one that seemed like a good deal. But they were out of stock and I was running out of time. I needed the chickens out of the shed before I headed south for a few days on personal business.

Gardening with a Backhoe
Jeff cleared a space for my shed and garden and left a pile of bunchgrass and weeds in the area just north of the garden patch.

Covering Conduit
After he moved my shed and dug a trench, I ran conduit for my temporary electric and water lines to keep them off the driveway and he covered it back up.

Meanwhile, Jeff, the earth-moving guy, was preparing the pad for my future home. He had a honking huge backhoe and an i-beam that he used to scrape the ground. I wanted a garden and I wanted my shed moved to the other side of the driveway. (Originally, I figured I’d sell the shed when my building was done, but I realized it would make a great place to store garden tools so I decided to keep it.) I realized that Jeff could give me a good head start on my garden prep with that i-beam and I set him to work on a small area near where I wanted the shed. He dug out the few sagebrush there and scraped the ground clear of bunchgrass, leaving it piled up in an area north of the garden. He even dragged my shed to its new position — it was built on skids — and got it level for me. And dug a trench so I could run power and water for my RV and shed under the driveway so the cords and hose would not be run over by construction vehicles this summer.

When he left, I looked at my future garden location and the spread-out, uprooted bunchgrass beside it. The chickens wouldn’t mind all that grass. And it would be nice to have them next to the garden so I could let them in to eat bugs. Without even intending to, Jeff had chosen the spot for my chicken yard.

I wound up buying 150 feet of 5-foot tall “horse fence” at the nearby Coastal Farm and Ranch store. I wanted 6-foot fencing so I’d have plenty of room to walk around under the net, but this was on sale for a good price and it’s not as if I’ll be hanging out in there with the chickens. I also bought a few 6-foot T-posts. I already had a T-post driver and a bunch more T-posts that a friend had given me.

But I began realizing that I’d have a problem when I got the roll of fence home. It was too heavy for me to lift. I couldn’t even push it out of the truck bed. Clearly, I’d need help.

Assembling the Fence

Help came in the form of my friend, Mike. He’d come up from California with his helicopter towed behind his motorhome. After dropping off the helicopter at the airport, he rolled down my driveway and greeted me with a big hug.

Fence Under Construction
Some of the T-posts in the ground around the future chicken yard; the roll of fencing was very heavy.

After getting a tour of the place — building pad, “lookout point,” apiary, chicks in shed — we talked about the things I needed to do. I mentioned the chicken yard and the fence, never even thinking about asking him for help. That’s when he offered to help me.

I’m not an idiot. When someone offers to help me with a difficult task, I say yes! We got to work right then and there.

The work went surprisingly well. Within about 2 hours, we had completely fenced in a 9 x 25 foot area beside my future garden, leaving only a 4-foot wide doorway for a gate. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was a lot better than I expected it to look.

Chicken Yard
The nearly finished chicken yard.

Finishing Up. Almost.

The next day, I bought some bird netting at Coastal. Although it was supposedly 14 x 45 feet in size, the 14 foot width could not span the 9 foot width of the chicken yard. (What was that all about?) But with a little creative cutting and attaching, I was able to fit three pieces across to protect the chickens from aerial predators.

The next morning was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. I decided to try out the chickens in their new yard — I really needed to get them settled in before I went on my trip. I dragged the stock tank out of the shed and into the chicken yard. I closed the makeshift gate I’d made behind me. And then I tilted the stock tank so it was laying on its side, thus freeing the chicks.

They were not happy. And Penny, of course, went nuts. She couldn’t get into the chicken yard and she wanted a piece of those chickens. The chickens ran around and Penny ran around the yard. And that’s when the chickens started squeezing through the fence.

What followed was a comedy routine that involved me and Penny chasing 3-week old chicks. Penny was good at catching them and, for some reason, she didn’t kill them. I managed to get them all back in the stock tank. After putting food and water in there, I went back into the RV, hot, sweaty, and dusty.

The chicks would not be much bigger before I headed out on my trip. That meant that if I wanted them in the yard, I’d have to put something around the bottom edge of the fence to prevent them from squeezing through. What? I had some chicken wire, but I’d bought 4-foot width and that was overkill. It looked as if I’d have to head back to Coastal for some more chicken wire.

Reuse, Recycle

I was back out in the yard, contemplating the situation, when my eyes fell upon the 22 bales of straw I had in two piles in my yard. I’d bought the straw the previous autumn to stack around the base of the RV to winterize it. When I moved the RV out for my California trip in February, I’d stacked the straw neatly to get it out of the way.

If I laid the straw around the base of the chicken yard, right up against the fence, would that prevent the chickens from getting out? It certainly seemed as if it would.

8 WD
Although I bought this little flatbed trailer — a Craig’s List deal — primarily to move my bees around in the future, its size and low bed make it perfect for moving my ATV and straw bales.

So I got to work. I’d brought my ATV home, along with the little cargo trailer I’d bought years ago for yard work up at our vacation property in northern Arizona. The cargo trailer’s tires had been replaced and it was all ready for use. But last week I’d also bought a very small flatbed trailer that was larger than the ATV’s yard trailer. With a ball on the front of my ATV for towing the helicopter, I could tow the little flatbed trailer. It would be perfect for moving all that straw.

A formerly wise man used to say that any job is easy if you have the right tools. How true. I had the straw moved and positioned in less than an hour.

I was thrilled. My solution solved more than just the chicken escape problem. It also temporarily solved the problem of what I was going to do with all that straw.

A while later, I tried again to let the chickens out into the yard. This time, they didn’t escape.

Chicken Yard
The chicken yard this morning. I haven’t done a headcount, but I’m pretty sure all eight of my little girls are in there.

Temporary Coop
The temporary chicken coop is nothing more than a stock tank on its side with a piece of scrap plywood as a lean-to wall.

I set up an automatic waterer that I think might be a bit too big for them. Then I set up their chick feeders and waterer. I left the stock tank on its side against the side of the fence as a makeshift shelter for them; later, I leaned a piece of scrap plywood against it to enclose most of it. My list of things to do includes building a chicken coop, but I’m not sure I’ll get to that before my trip. The chicks are still small and should be okay in the stock tank, at least for a few more weeks.

The sun has just risen as I’m tying this. Seeing movement out the window, I took a closer look. The chicks are out in their little yard, scratching around in the early morning light. They’re exploring their big automatic waterer and, with luck, will soon be using their hanging feeder, too.

It looks like I’m on the road to chicken success. More later, after I’ve built their coop.

Interesting Links, December 28, 2013

Here are links I found interesting on December 28, 2013:

Interesting Links, October 25, 2013

Here are links I found interesting on October 25, 2013: