Rattlesnakes on the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Kat Ludlam and Willow Creek Farm
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Muck boots
Photo by Kat Ludlam

We recently moved from the high-altitude Rockies, where there were no poisonous snakes at all, to the high plains of Colorado, which is “crawling” with rattlesnakes. In order to learn how to stay safe, we had a snake biologist from Adaptation Environmental Services in Denver come to our property to assess our set-up and teach us all about living in areas with these dangerous creatures. He taught us about snakes and how they live, and he walked our property with us and showed us the strengths and weaknesses of our buildings and landscaping so we can make choices that deter the snakes from coming into areas of the farm that we and our animals frequent.

If you live in snake country there are some easy steps you can take to keep your family and farm safer. But first, you need to understand the habits of snakes.

Snakes are cold-blooded, meaning they can’t regulate their own body temperature. Thus, depending on the outdoor temperatures, they must move in to cooler spots or warmed spots to keep their body at a good temperature. During the hottest part of the day, they are hiding in prairie dog holes underground, or in the shade of your porch, buildings, or in piles of building supplies. During the cooler mornings and evenings, they are out and more active, moving around and hunting. And when the weather starts getting chilly, they will want to sun themselves out on the driveway, cement, or asphalt in open areas where they can take advantage of the warmth of the sun. Keep these habits in mind as you move around your property, knowing where to look for them during that time of day and weather will help you be more aware.

Protect Your Legs

Most snake bites happen on the ankle. Wearing appropriate shoes that will protect you from a potential bite as you move around your farm is the first step and goes a long way towards human safety. We made a rule that when the kids or we are moving around the farm, we must be wearing our muck boots or our cowboy boots. And especially if we are out in the pastures, whether walking or on a mower or tractor, boots are a must.

Don’t Go Digging in Junk

Every farm has a certain amount of “junk” piles around the farm. T-posts, lumber, rolls of wire, or any number of building supplies and items that you are saving for the right project dot the landscape of the homestead. Unfortunately, these piles are the perfect hiding spot for snakes. They are cool and protected during the heat of the day.

So, when you need to go looking in piles of stuff, it is important to bring a long stick of some kind to use to lift up the items while you stand back and make sure there are no snakes hiding. If you reach down and just start grabbing stuff with your hands, you risk getting a bite on your hand, arm, or even face as you lean over. Once you have lifted and shifted things around enough with the stick to be sure there are no snakes, then you can bend down and grab what you need.

Junk pile
Photo by Kat Ludlam

Smart Landscaping

Limiting the places for snakes to hide in the most populated areas of your farm is very helpful. Low bushes and plants, shady areas under the deck or in the cracks of retaining walls are all areas a snake might choose to hang out during the heat of the day. Walk the area around your house and barns and identify the locations snakes will like. Then, either remove them, or change them to make them unappealing to snakes.

And those piles of “junk” I mentioned earlier, don’t put those right next to your barnyard or right where your dogs like to go sniffing. Keep them out away from the populated areas of the farm. Being purposeful about where you choose to put places that will attract snakes will help keep you safer.

Snake Fencing

There are places on your farm where you know that snakes are going to be drawn to that you can’t really change or remove but you still want to keep safe. A vegetable garden or berry patch, for example. Your low-lying bushes and plants will be a perfect shady place for them to hide in the hot days of summer, and you will also want to be there, kneeling down and reaching in to weed or harvest your plants. That makes for a perfect chance for a bite.

Another place might be a play area for your kids. The shade from a play set and such could be a resting place for a snake and you want your children to be able to run out and play unharmed. For locations such as these you should consider the option of snake fencing. There are companies out there that can build a snake fence for you, or you can build your own.

Dogs and Snakes

Most farms have at least one, and usually multiple dogs. Snake aversion training your dog can help teach them to give snakes a wider berth and can save your dog’s life. The training tends to be more effective with some dogs and less with others. Different dogs have different personalities and will react differently to the training. Our house dog did not learn much from the training, but our farm dog did. It is worth it to at least give it a try, if it doesn’t work for your dog then you are right where you started, but if it does work it can help save their life.

There is also a rattlesnake vaccine available. It does not prevent your dog from dying from a snake bite, but supposedly can increase the time period from the bite to death, giving you more time to get them to the vet. It is a very controversial vaccine and some vets say it doesn’t work at all, and some say it is worth it to give it to your dogs. Do your research and talk to your vet before you decide what is best for your dogs.

Livestock and Snakes

The best way to protect livestock from snakes is to be sure that their housing area and the surrounding areas are free from any of the places snakes can hide, such as piles of junk, low lying bushes, etc. Make it unappealing for snakes to want to be in the areas your livestock lives.

As far as chickens, ducks, and other small poultry, generally the most at risk are the eggs and the babies. If you plan to raise chicks or ducklings, or are having trouble with snakes stealing eggs, you should enclose the housing area with ¼-1/2-inch wire mesh, buried out at least 6 inches from the sides to keep the snakes out. Also, check for any cracks and holes in the coop that could let in a snake. Rattlesnake babies can be as small as ¼ inch. But they are unlikely to go hunting for food in your coop if they are that small because the eggs and chicks are likely much too big for them to eat.

There are many steps you can take to help safeguard your family and your farm if you are living in poisonous snake territory. By purposefully making choices that will make the areas on your property that humans and animals frequent unappealing to snakes, you can help prevent a nasty and dangerous encounter.

Kat Ludlam spent14 years homesteading at high-altitude in the Rockies and now is building a new homestead in the high plains of Colorado. She and her husband, Daniel, are the owners of Willow Creek Farm, where they breed specialty wool sheep, milk sheep, chickens, and crops that thrive in their location. Kat loves to feed her family from their land, and teach others to homestead as well. Check out Kat and Daniel’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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