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How to keep snakes out of the rabbitry


May 14, 2014
For the past three years, Lyn Nicholas has battled gopher snakes invading the rabbit pens in her backyard. Her rabbitry is constructed of four poles that support the roof. Cages are hung from rafters. Gopher snakes are crawling up the poles and through the cages, killing, and then ingesting the baby rabbits. After a recent invasion, Nicholas found a scared mother rabbit suffering from a broken back after a snake attacked the rabbit pen. Due to the unfortunate incident, Nicholas was forced to euthanize the injured rabbit. During the last year, it is estimated that five snakes have killed six or seven baby rabbits.

The only recourse to the ongoing snake attacks has been to catch the snakes to relocate them two miles away. Nicholas has tried every possible means to deter the snakes.

"They have powders we put on the ground. It doesn't work," said Nicholas. "Snakes can crawl anywhere."

On Easter Sunday as she was going out the gate to her neighbor's house, Nicholas confronted a gopher snake making its way to the rabbitry.

"Our hands were full of stuff," Nicholas said. "My son got a container, caught the snake, and relocated it to the same place."

Gopher snakes attack rabbits when they are only a few days old up to two and a half weeks. After that, even with small changes, the bunnies are too big for the snakes to ingest.

Currently, Nicholas is raising 40 bunnies only a few days old. All are spoken for and will be given to the Valley Center and Orange Glen FFA and the Escondido 4-H.

Last year was the worst year of the frequent snake attacks. One gopher snake crawled into the cages, killing the baby rabbits and the mother too. Nicholas had to bottle feed the surviving babies.

For alternative solutions to stop the snake attacks, she decided to seek the assistance of Home Depot.

"I went to hardware and approached the guys, telling them I've got this really big problem," Nicholas said. Ideas were exchanged to find a different solution. Another consideration was the cost. It was finally determined that aluminum sheeting encased around the poles attached with screws and bolts was a likely solution, due to the slick surface of the resulting cylinder.

For $48, Nicholas made the purchase.

"As I was leaving, a woman was yelling 'ma'am, ma'am,'" said Nicholas. "My first thought was I had done something wrong. But the woman said the boys told me about the problem you're having and they would really like to help."

Nicholas explained she couldn't afford to pay them. The woman insisted the employees just wanted to help her and didn't expect payment.

"It made me cry," said Nicholas. "It was a random act of kindness.

Forty-five minutes later, two men driving a Home Depot truck arrived with materials and a can of WD-40 for extra precautionary measures to ensure the aluminum-casing surface was really slick. Tubes of sheeting were wrapped around the poles. The construction project took about an hour. Nicholas was reassured this solution was 99.5 percent effective in deterring the snakes.

"They went beyond their call of duty. Both are graduates of Valley Center High School," Nicholas said, referring to the two Home Depot employees who volunteered time and effort in the construction project.

A Valley Center resident for 35 years, Nicholas is an Animal Health Technician registered in the state of California. She has been raising rabbits for 45 years.

"I have all kinds of animals living on the farm," she said. "There are two Dorset ewes. I walk them every day. They're like big wooly dogs."

Included in the menagerie are eight chickens, four geese, guinea fowl, 16 rabbits (some are New Zealand whites, others are mini rabbits), two indoor cats, two outdoor cats, a hedgehog, two guinea pigs, and goldfish in a pond.

Nicholas has been raising rabbits since she was a child. She is also actively involved with 4-H. Her son shows rabbits and sheep at the fair. Their rabbits are shown in open shows.

"Rabbits have a book of standards like dogs and cats," said Nicholas. "They have to meet qualifications that judges go by."

Three rabbits of the same breed weighing three pounds, but not over five pounds, and less than 70 days old are judged on variety of color.

"You want them to look at triplets," Nicholas said. "The rabbits are judged on meat quality."

Last year, the Nicholas family won the 2013 FFA Rabbit Meet-pens to add to their extensive awards acquired through the years. Their award collection includes hundreds of blue ribbons, countless rosettes, trophies, silver belt buckles, and banners.

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