As you know I recently decided to move my does to our barn, which is really just a series of 4 enclosed stalls. You can read about it here.
About two weeks ago, Bunny gave birth to eight beautiful kits, finishing out my kindling for the time being. At the time, I had 9 four week old kits with Zelda, 9 two week old kits with Mimi, and Bunny's newborn kits. One day last week something told me to go check on everyone, so I started with Bunny's stall. As you can see, she has a fabulous covered nest box with a hinged door. She built a beautiful nest and things were going swimmingly.
When I lifted up the door, this is what I found, a big fat beautiful black rat snake.
It was coiled around the nest. I freaked! I ran and grabbed a rake and poked at it until it slid to the back of the nest where it is in the photo. I started frantically pulling back fur to find babies. I only found four of the eight. There were three days' old and the perfect size for snake snacking. One of them was slimy as if the snake had started eating it but spit it out. Everyone was gathered and put in a nest box and along with Bunny, put in a cage.
I then went to Mimi's cage to gather her two week old kits, and they were not in their kennel. I think I almost had a heart attack. But, I pulled the kennel away from the wall and they were all piled up atop one another asleep behind the kennel. I gathered them and Mimi and also put them in a cage. At two weeks' old, they were still a great size for a snake to tackle.
Even though Zelda's babies were four weeks old, I put them and Zelda in a cage as well, just to be safe.
My nerves were shot by then, and even though I knew it was non-venomous, I didn't want to tackle capturing the snake by myself. Neither my husband nor my neighbor were home, so I let it hang out where it was. If I were a drinking person, a good stiff one would have been next on the agenda.
I wiped off the kit that was slimy and I worried that moving Bunny and her nest would confuse her and maybe she would not know where her kits were. Fortunately I had some of her fur saved from her last litter, so I lined the nest with it and covered the kits. The next day I saw her feeding the kits so I knew she knew where they were; however, the one kit did not look like it had eaten. So I took it out of the cage along with Bunny and held her while it nursed. I did this for a few days to make sure it was eating. It is growing so I know it's being fed, but it's not growing at the rate of the other ones. Honestly I don't know if it was a runt to start with or if maybe the snake damaged it in some way, but it is active and its eyes opened on schedule.
We've had several cool, rainy days lately and a few mornings ago, I went out to feed and water everyone and it was on the cage floor, out of the nest box, barely moving, likely dying from hypothermia. I brought it inside and warmed it up and put it back in the nest box. I checked on it later and it was warm and snuggled up with its litter mate. It was probably still attached to Bunny when she finished feeding and got pulled out of the box with her. I will give it credit; it's a survivor!
They should hit two weeks' old in a few days, and at that point, they will start to munch on hay and get their legs under them. I'll be curious to see how it progresses from there.
So, back to the snake. It hung around the stall for a while and left at some point. I'm sure it didn't go far being weighted down with rabbit kits. Non-venomous snakes serve a valuable role in our eco-system. They provide rodent control and protect their territory from venomous snakes. I would never kill a non-venomous snake. In this situation, I have only myself to blame. I set up a perfect buffet for that snake. Because my stalls are predator proof in terms of raccoons and opposums, I never imagined a snake causing havoc, even though it makes perfect sense. I know we have snakes as I see them every year and occasionally they eat some of my eggs.
So for the last week, I've been very diligent about collecting eggs as soon as possible. And low and behold, I went to put up the chickens one evening and found a grey rat snake in the chicken coop. It had indulged on one of my eggs, so Nate loaded it up in the truck and took it down to the canal and released it. I hated relocating it but I also don't want it eating all of my eggs. I'm sure the black rat snake is still around so I know we still have a snake coverage.
Zelda's babies just hit six weeks and have pretty good size to them now, so I plan to move them and Zelda back to one of the stalls once it stops raining non-stop. And, I'll do the same with each subsequent litter until I figure out how to snake-proof the stalls. I won't be breeding again until the fall so I have some time to work on it.