About a week ago, we noticed that egg production was WAAAY down...just two or three a day, from nine laying hens, and it was affecting both the buffs and the Americaunas equally. We suspected a number of possible variables, as both breeds seem sensitive to minor changes. In no particular order, we considered the new feed we had recently introduced, some minor changes in their living environment, and the possibility of rancid cracked corn, which we hadn't been turning over very quickly.
However, one afternoon Mary was working in the backyard when a ruckus arose from inside the henhouse. When she went to investigate, she was rather surprised to find a large and very well-fed black snake curled up (like he owned the joint) in the small space behind the twin nesting boxes.
Apparently, for the last while, this resourceful snake has had himself his very own vending machine, where he simply waits for an egg to appear, and he merrily gobbles it up. (The presence of really disgusting snake feces in the henhouse litter lends credence to this theory. Apparently a hungry snake can process a whole lot of eggs in short order; they're not like piglets or anything, leaving rosary-bead bulges along his physiology...)
Mary left the snake alone until I got home to see this spectacle. Appropriately begloved, we extricated the sated and dopey snake from his little hidey-hole, and stuffed him in a large sack. We drove him down our lane and released him a reasonable distance away from the henhouse in the hopes that he would forget this cushy little gig in favor of the usual routine of hunting wiley adversaries in the wild.
Egg production is slowly creeping back upwards, and so far, the snake has not reappeared. However, the last few nights the dogs have repeatedly gone on high alert, bolting from the house in furies of barking and snarling, and the musky funk of fox has wafted strong on the breeze...
Never a dull moment.