First Animal Harvest… Sort of.

So yesterday while browsing Craigslist, like all good urban homesteaders do, I came across an a for a baby ball python.

Now I have mentioned in passing that I would like a snake some time and I have been slowly planning for that. I have owned a pair of breeding mice for nearly two months now, and I got a 75 gallon tank with lid and clamps with the help of my friend Chuck. I had everything else sitting at home from my previous snake. So when I saw this ad, I asked how much it was. It was $50, they got it and found that they couldn’t care for it and needed to rehome it, and they would bring it to my house. Sold! It’s actually almost the same price a pet-store sells this type of snake for and it’s more than a reptile show… But it’s hard to pass up free delivery.

So, suddenly today I found myself with a cold (because it’s cold out), hungry, scared, tiny, baby snake in my hands trying to crawl up my sleeve to get warm. Crazy. I thought it would be months yet before I got my snake but opportunity struck and I took it!

For those who don’t know this is a medium sized species known as a ball python. They typically get to be about 4.5 feet long and are very heavy, thick-bodied snakes with large heads. They come in about a million colors and are great pets if you have the space for them when they get big. Snakes are amazing not just because of their accepting nature and incredible anatomy but because of all the pets in the world they are probably the lowest maintanece I can think of. Ever. What other animal’s daily maintinence requires litterally 10 seconds and only needs to eat every five day to two weeks? They produce VERY little waste so a 10-minute spot-cleaning of their cage before you feed them every week keeps their environment clean. They are the type of animal you can put a light on a timer and leave for a 10-day vacation and come home to a live animal that is as happy as ever. When I woked at a petstore I suggested snakes as pets to people who were first-time animal woners because once you have them set up correctly it’s hard to NOT maintain them.

But there is a part to that once-a-week feeding that troubles many people… The feeding of whole rodents. Contrary to popular belief, those rodents do NOT have to be alive and in fact it’s best if they aren’t. A live mouse can easilly kill a snake when cornered, and if you have the snake and mouse in a cage together, the mouse is ALWAYS cornered. Also, snakes are ambush predetors. They tend to surprise unsuspecting prey. A snake’s worst enemy is being seen and there’s no way the mouse won’t see it.

Well, I had a group of baby mice sitting in my mouse cage, waiting for me to get a snake. We were initially going to grow them out, thinking I would get a larger specimin of snake. But this particular ball python is only three months old. He’s a tiny, skinny little thing and much too small to eat a full-sized mouse. Even these baby mice were very large. They were what is known as “fuzzies” as they were baby mice with fur but not yet open-eyed. They were due to start opening their eyes and coming out of the nest any day which would have made them “hoppers”, which meant that even for “fuzzies” they were very large. Almost too large for this snake I’d just gotten which left me with a problem. They needed to be harvested NOW or they would be inedible for my snake. Which brought up a dilema; how does one harvest 1-ounce baby mice? It’s kind of hard to snap their necks or cut their throats.

Well the most favored method amongst snake keepers is known as “bopping” where you either grab the animal by the tail or place the m in a bag and slam them firmly into a hard surface. This sounds brutal and awful and like splattered brains everywhere. I sought in vain for a better way to do this. I thought about doing something like broomsticking with rabbits. Or perhaps cutting off their heads. But there just were not practical. One look at the baby mice and you knew it.

So Greg smiled at me sheepishly as I held a box of nine bitey, squirming, baby fuzzy mice… And suggested that there must be a reason why bopping was the most popoular method for dispatch. I decided to try it. Even if I did just one and couldn’t do more, at least I’d know. So we pulled out an ordinary plastic bag and in went one little baby mouse.

I put it deep in one of the corners and gave the bag a quick twist. And then in one swift motion there was a loud crack at it hit the wall and was instantly dead. It was probably one of the fastest ways I could ever imagine something dying. It was litterally instantaneous. There was not even residual twitching they die that suddenly with this method. You know it’s fast when the nuerons can’t even fire off. Eight of the nine went well, but one of them hit a little TOO hard and an eyeball popped out. Ugh. So we decided to see how Mister Snake felt about an early meal. I was told it had been about a week since his last meal so it was worth a shot. I brough the gross baby up on a paper towel and put the whole thing in his cage.

He almost immediately went for the mouse and within 15 minutes he struck it firml on the throat and launched himself around it. The mouse may have been dead but instincts are strong in this one. He ate the whole thing swiftly and without much issue. It could not have gone much better!

Right after he started his death-grip on the mouse. It’s a good thing you can’t see its goopy eye or this would be a creepy shot.

After watching the snake down it’s meal I felt very content with the whole affair. I am not sure how well it’d go with an adult mouse but all around I think it went as well as it possibly could. The other eight babies went on a tiny cookie sheet to flash-freeze in the freezer before being packaged in a plastic bag for later use or possibly even sale. Considering my mice will produce 6-14 babies a month of which I will use 4-5 of them each month I will have some leftovers that will have to go somewhere. Other snake owners may be pleased to go to a local breeder with extremely well-cared for mice for their snake food. And as I’ve mentioned before, my mice have a great life together, doing what mice do in natre, having clean beding, grass hays, constant food and clean water.

I look upon this day as a big success. I also look on it a little like training for harvesting the rabbits in a about 10 days. I feel just decent about how things went and if the rabbits go as smooth I will be happy as a clam to do it once a month for my food. Either way I feel confident about always having food for my snake.

Which reminds me… My snake needs a name. Any suggestions for him?


3 thoughts on “First Animal Harvest… Sort of.

  1. How about Leonard for a name? Naming pets seems to have become a popular activity on WP.

    My friend many years ago had a snake. He would buy a mouse, come home, get the hammer, go outside, “bop” it on the sidewalk, and then feed it to the snake. I always had a fascination/repulsion with snakes.

    My doctor told me that he would gas his mice in a bag with CO2 to kill them in medical school for autopsy prep. Have you ever seen a snake owner do that before?

    I’m glad you talk about squimish issues on your blog. Most bloggers won’t. Kudos to you!

    • Hmm, not sure. Greg wants the name “Ophidian”. Getting this snake was kind of sudden so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it. I didn’t know naming pets was popular on WP.

      I have always been confused by people who don’t like snakes. I often hear things like “they’re slimy and cold and bite and aren’t friendly” but it couldn’t be further from the truth. They are smooth and soft and the temperature of their cage (which CAN be cold) and they don’t bite and are VERY affectionate. The best ones are red tailed boas… They LOVE to snuggle. But they get too big for most folks to handle. I have handled RTBs up to about 6 feet long and they are VERY sweet.

      I have heard that CO2 is a great way to dispatch mice but it’s only practical in large numbers. I know a lot of people who are “in to” reptiles keep crazy numbers of snakes because they’re so low maintinence. Imagine if all the time I put into my two dogs went into keeping snakes? I would have like 20 snakes. So it’s not unusual for “snake people” to HAVE snakes and mice in large numbers and it’s optimal to use CO2 to dispatch them. If you have 20 snakes that means you need 20 mice EACH WEEK. So 80 mice a month. But if you’re only doing one litter of mice a month it doesn’t make much sense. Or you can buy them pre-killed from the pet-store where they are severely over-priced in relation to the cost of raising your own by about a 10-to-1 ratio.

      And thanks. I try my best to make posts that are both relevant and about my life. When you raise carniverous animals and their food, that means tackling the issue of getting the food to the animal and I think it’s something anyone looking to raise food for animals or themselves would want to know about… Grisly subject matter or not. I appreciate you reading it!

      • I like your blog because you tackle the issues very well – with grace and mindfulness. It’s a difficult balance but you do it nicely. I don’t understand people who go to the store and buy packaged meat but they get woo-zy or object to reading a blog about processing rabbits. Really? Buying, breeding, processing and eating my own rabbits has forced me to have a tremendous amount of respect….almost sacred respect….for animals. In a weird way it’s made me more human. Does that make any sense? Anyways….awesome blog! Keep up the great work! P.S. I really dig Ophidian as a name. Very cool!

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