There are many things that can cause a problem in a rural setting, one of which is snakes in barns. Barns are often places where rattlesnakes and other creatures can pose harm to you and your family members.
What Attracts Rattlesnakes to Barns?
Snakes find and stay in places that will fulfill their needs, such as hiding, keeping warm, and having food and water sources. Since snakes are highly mobile, they can enter an enclosure or structure that fits their liking. Most of the time, snakes are found outdoors where they can be active and range for food and mates.
Some of the items rattlesnakes look for when they enter a barn:
- Water sources (water troughs, birdbaths, standing water).
- Cooler temperatures
- Hiding spaces (behind boxes, in haystacks).
- Food sources (rodents, birds, old cat and dog food).
All animal species have certain preferences when it comes to where they will live. Rattlesnakes seek to regulate their body temperature with the help of their environment. They also want conveniences such as easy access to food and water.
Snake species vary in their ability to go without food for extended periods of time, even weeks or months. However, rattlesnakes prefer to eat a few times a week or once every several weeks.
Your barn does not need many rodents, mice, or birds to attract a hungry rattlesnake, just a few is enough. Even leaving out old cat or dog food in your barn could attract a hungry snake. In fact, having any kind of animal food lying around will attract rodents, which in turn will attract rattlesnakes!
Rattlesnakes also need access to fresh drinking water. So, water buckets, troughs, puddles, leaky pipes, and drains will fill a rattlesnake’s thirst. Make sure to have these cleaned up, drained, repaired, or set high off the ground so rattlesnakes cannot get to them.
Cool and Hidden Places
Rattlesnakes like to hide from predators and nest in places that are cool and damp in the summer months. Your barn is ideal as it has many nooks and crannies, haystacks, and the warmth of large animals (horses, cattle, sheep) to keep the barn toasty enough for them.
Since rattlesnakes are great at hiding, you may not know one is in your barn, but there are some signs you can look for.
How Do You Know if a Rattlesnake Is In Your Barn?
There are a few ways to tell if a rattlesnake may be living on your barn. These include:
- There are no rodents around, curiously.
- You step on one
- You see one
- You find one hiding behind boxes, hay bails, or in a tool area.
- You find a shed snakeskin
- There are eggs or chickens mysteriously missing from your chicken coup.
- One of your animals has been bitten recently
- One of your animals is acting strangely when near the barn
- You live in an area with lots of snakes
Just living in an area that has lots of snakes, such as somewhere in the American southwest, increases the chances that you could have a rattlesnake in or near your barn.
During the summertime when temperatures can get very hot, rattlesnakes may look for cooler places to hide and rest, and your barn could on their target list.
Also, during the winter, they may want to find a place that is out of the cold, and being near warm barn animals will help them stay warm. However, this is less likely because they will have their own dens outside of the barn somewhere where they will likely be brumating.
As mentioned, rattlesnakes like easy meals and a barn can be plentiful sources of rodents, eggs, and water.
Will a Rattlesnake Harm Your Animals?
Large Barn Animals (Horses, Cows, Donkeys, Mules, Alpaccas)
Fortunately rattlesnakes do not seek to bite large animals, such as horses or cows, just for the sake of it. They will likely only bite them if they feel threatened or are trapped in an enclosed space with the animal.
Many horse owners may think or have read that a rattlesnake cannot kill their horse because the venom is not strong enough. But this is not necessarily true.
The intensity of the affects of the venom on the horse depends on a number of factors:
- The age of the horse (very young or old)
- The overall health of the horse
- The amount of venom injected
- How well the horse has been cared for
- The location of the snake bite
Horses are curious animals, and young ones especially are inclined to reach their heads towards a rattlesnake they may find in their stall or out in the field.
Because of this, many horses are bitten on the head or face area which can cause significant swelling in the eye or nostril areas. If the nostrils become blocked, the horse could die from lack of oxygen, even if the venom will not kill the horse on its own.
If the horse is bitten on the leg or ankle, it is more likely to make a full recovery. Even so, rattlesnake venom can cause necrosis near the wound which could permanently damage your horse’s leg, not to mention a lot of pain.
There are other effects of rattlesnake venom on the blood, nerves, and heart, so the owner should call a veterinarian as soon as possible after a bite.
Larger barn animals that roam outdoors in pens during the day are always at risk of running across a rattlesnake traversing through the area.
Small Barn Animals (Goats, Sheep, Rabbits, Chickens)
Smaller barn animals, those that are much smaller than horses or cows, are very susceptible to both being bitten and dying from a rattlesnake bite.
Due to their smaller size, a large dose of venom will get through their body and more easily harm their internal organs. It is up to the owner of these animals to decide if it is worth treating them after they are bitten.
Rattlesnake Vaccines For Horses
You can get a rattlesnake vaccine for you horse which will enhance its immunity from venom. This requires three doses of vaccine spread out over three months. Additional booster shots are recommended after this every six months.
Cost of Treating Your Horse or Steer After a Rattlesnake Bite
Vials of antivenom can cost thousands of dollars, and if you do not have insurance, you will have to pay the full bill.
Regardless, it is important to get veterinary attention as fast as possible after a snake bite, because prompt treatment will help your animal avoid a long and expensive recovery.
Cows and steers are usually the largest animals on a farm and are most able to handle a rattlesnake’ venom. They can also crush a snake easily. Most people also do not keep cows as pets, so this is less likely for the average barn owner anyhow.
Do Chickens Attract Rattlesnakes?
Chickens and their eggs are especially vulnerable to rattlesnakes because their eggs make a great meal for them. Overall, rattlesnakes prefer small rodents so your chickens are safer than you may think.
The key is to remove the vermin in your barn and surrounding area as best you can. You can do this by the following:
- Use a chicken feeder that secures the feed.
- Remove any surrounding brush or objects that could provide cover for rodents or rattlesnakes.
- Set vermin traps in your barn.
- Close tiny gaps in your coup or barn that could allow a rattlesnake to slither through.
- Lock all your eggs securely in a nesting box or collect them regularly.
Add Golf Balls
Golf balls are good stand-ins for chicken eggs and can make a rattlesnake very uncomfortable if it decides to try and eat one. One bite on a golf ball, and the snake will likely avoid the eggs for sometime.
Introduce Guinea Fowl
Rattlesnakes hate guinea fowl with a passion because they scare them. Guinea fowl also get along well with chickens, so consider adding some to your flock. Guinea fowl also like to eat insects and small mice, so they can help keep the area clear of these.
Get a Barn Cat
Cats will not hunt and kill rattlesnakes, but they will help remove mice and rodents from your barn. This will keep this problem under control and not provide a rattlesnake with an easy food source. Barn cats are also nice furry friends to have around while you feed your animals and care for them.
Are Rattlesnakes Attracted to Haystacks?
Yes, haystacks do attract rattlesnakes. Hay bails or straw piles are soft, warm, and provide a hiding space for rattlesnakes. This is especially true when the weather gets very hot or very cold and the snake needs a dark place to rest and regulate its body temperature.
What To Do If You Find a Rattlesnake In Your Barn?
If you find a rattlesnake in your barn, it is key to not panic.
First, you should let your animals out to range in their pens so you can deal with the snake.
Then you should attempt to trap the snake somehow and have it removed. You can call a local snake removal service to do this for you. You do not want to let the snake get away and keep living near your animals outside.
You can also purchase caged snake traps that will make it safe and easy to remove them, which you can set next to or inside your barn.
The last option is to kill the rattlesnake, but this is very dangerous and only a skilled person should attempt this.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.