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Day-old Chicks — Small Chickens as Feed for Snakes. Analysis

2024-02-14
Day-old Chicks — Small Chickens as Feed for Snakes. Analysis

Day-old Chicks — Small Chickens as Feed for Snakes. Analysis

In 2010, an analysis by K. Arbuckle was published in the United Kingdom, concerning the role of day-old chicks in the diet of snakes kept in domestic conditions. The study was a review of the available literature with the aim of assessing day-old chickens as feed for snakes.

How was it studied? Chickens compared to mice and rats

The author compared the nutritional values of day-old chickens with rodents, which are the most commonly used feed:

The author considered various factors in the suitability of small chickens as feed for snakes:

  • Nutritional composition,
  • Tastiness,
  • Ease of procurement,
  • Ease of consumption,
  • Ease of storage,
  • Similarity to the natural diet,
  • Quality,
  • Cost.

Procuring day-old chickens for snake feed does not pose a problem at the time of writing this article. Feed and whole prey shops, such as Raw PetFood, deliver this category of frozen food for snakes in Poland and Europe, and shipping in dry ice guarantees the quality of the received product.

Quality is determined in this case also by own hatcheries, carefully developed supply chain (described in the article about day-old chicks for cats) and manual selection of chicks. This also translates to the ease of storing chickens, which clean, ethically euthanized and shock-frozen, easily fit into the freezer space and can be taken out one by one without the need to thaw the whole.

The price of day-old chickens is also transparent and competitive per kilogram compared to frozen mice and rats, in this article, we will therefore cite study fragments concerning these aspects of poultry in the diet of snakes, which are not so obvious and widely available.

Nutritional Composition Analysis of Day-Old Chicks as Feed for Snakes

Comparing the composition of day-old chickens with rodents, the author notes that the chicks present a similar nutrient profile to frozen mice and young frozen rats. Moreover, chickens often fare better than rodents against the recommended levels of nutrients for reptiles in this category.

The Nutritional Value of Feed Animals per Gram of Food

The energy value of feed for snakes turned out to be slightly higher per gram in the case of day-old chickens than for frozen mice and rats, although the difference is small. After applying data on the assimilation of energy from vertebrates in the case of reptiles (about 90%), the energy values of individual feed elements are as follows:

  • Day-old chickens 5.22 kcal / gram,
  • Mice 4.73 kcal / gram,
  • Rats 5.00 kcal / gram.

From the above data, it is clear that there are no justified concerns that day-old chickens would constitute too little energy-rich food for domestic snakes. On the contrary — they can provide a valuable, because more calorific than more popular feed animals. As in everything, here too, common sense should be applied; feeding more calorific food will be justified in the case of animals with a high energy requirement, e.g., during intensive growth or in the breeding season. For overweight animals or those prone to fattening, less calorific food will be used.

Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Fiber, and Water

The situation is similar in the case of crude protein, crude fat, and fiber. Day-old chicks and rodents (frozen mice and rats) are very similar in terms of these values. The author points out that in terms of protein, quality is at least as important as quantity, but adds that the protein quality is uniformly high among all discussed vertebrates constituting feed for snakes.

The ash content in chickens is lower than in rodents, but slightly. Although it is true that day-old chicks contain a higher percentage of water than rodents, the difference is not large.

Calcium and Phosphorus in Snake Food

Calcium is a key mineral for the skeletal health of snakes. It should be noted that day-old chicks have an average lower percentage of calcium (0.8 - 2.5) compared to frozen mice (1.2 - 4.8) and rats (1.0 - 8.7). Although this still falls within the recommended minimum range for snakes (0.8 - 1.0), this fact should be taken into account when composing a diet from the available feed for snakes.

The author notes that the ratio of calcium to phosphorus (1.4) in the case of day-old chicks is comparable to that in rodents (1.1 for frozen mice and 1.5 for rats) and falls within the recommended range for snakes (1–2:1), which is key to ensuring proper calcium absorption.

Sodium, Sulfur, Manganese, and Other Micronutrients in Feed for Snakes

According to the data cited by the author, day-old chicks were richer in sodium and sulfur than other feed animals, and the copper content was very similar.

Studies have shown lower levels of magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese, and zinc in day-old chicks compared to frozen mice and rats, but the author notes that among the minerals present in smaller amounts in chicks than in rodents, only manganese is below the suggested minimum requirements for reptiles.

Similarity of Chickens to the Natural Diet of Snakes

The naturalness of day-old chicks compared to frozen mice and rats was assessed by the author using dietary data from the literature, giving priority to snake species that commonly occur in domestic breeding.

The diet of most snakes was rarely uniform. Although mammals statistically appeared most frequently among snake prey, other animals, including reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, were also present. Birds constituted the second most frequently consumed category of animals by snakes, making up 1/3 of the mammals consumed by snakes.

The author here notes the variability of study results depending on not only the species but also the environment of the snakes. For example, it was noted that the frequency of bird consumption by Hierophis viridiflavus and Zamenis longissimus decreases with increasing environmental changes, and while no birds were found in the diet of Python sebae living in natural habitats, poultry made up 37.5% of their diet in suburban environments. These data may suggest that snakes are opportunistic predators that hunt birds where they are numerous and easily available.

List of snakes in whose diet birds appear:

  • Boa constrictor Red-tailed Boa(40%)
  • Bogertophis subocularis / Trans – Pecos Rat Snake / Durango Rat Snake (17%)
  • Boiga cyanea (86%)
  • Boiga dendrophila Gold-ringed Cat Snake / Mangrove Snake (25%)
  • Broghammerus reticulatus Reticulated Python / Regal Python / Java Rock Python (9%)
  • Corallus hortulanus / Amazon tree boa / Common tree boa / Garden tree boa (38%)
  • Elaphe quatuorlineata / Ratsnake (28%)
  • Lampropeltis getula (12%)
  • Lampropeltis triangulum / Milk Snake (16-26%)
  • Lampropeltis zonata (12%)
  • Lamprophis fuliginosus / Brown House Snake, African House Snake  (10%)
  • Morelia spilota / Diamond Python
    and others: (m.in. Morelia spilota mcdowelli - 64%, Morelia spilota spilota - 9%, Morelia spilota variegata - 9-25%)
  • Pantherophis guttatus / Corn Snake / Red Rat Snake(22%)
  • Pantherophis obsoletus (20-53%)
  • Pituophis catenifer (15-18%)
  • Pituophis melanoleucus (21%)
  • Python molurus bivittatus / Burmese Python (28%)

Additionally, among snakes that may also consume birds as part of their diet, the following are listed:

  • Aspidites melanocephalus / Black-headed Python
  • Aspidites ramsayi / Ramsay's Python / Woma Python
  • Charina bottae / Rubber Boa
  • Epicrates cenchria / Rainbow boa
  • Eryx colubrinus
  • Eryx jaculus / Spotted Sand Boa / Javelin Sand Boa / Caucasian Sand Boa
  • Heterodon nasicus / Western hognose snake
  • Lampropeltis alterna
  • Lamprophis lineatus
  • Liasis children
  • Liasis maculosus
  • Natrix natrix
  • Pantherophis emoryi / Great Plains ratsnake
  • Pantherophis spiloides / Gray ratsnake
  • Python brongersmai / Brongersma's Short-Tailed Python / Blood Python, Red Short-Tailed Python
  • Python regius / Royal Python
  • Python sebae / African rock python / Rock python / African python
  • Rhinechis scalaris
  • Thamnophis elegans 
  • Thamnophis radix
  • Thamnophis sauritus
  • The Common Garter Snake
  • Zamenis longissimus
  • Zamenis situla

Tastiness and Ease of Consumption of Feed for Snakes

According to the author of the analysis, data on the tastiness of day-old chicks compared to rodent feed are insufficient to form unequivocal conclusions. However, the author takes into account the presence of avian prey in most previously studied wild snake diets and many reports of predation on domestic chickens by snakes found living in close proximity to humans. He also does not overlook the experiences of snake breeders.

All this argues for a high acceptance rate of small chickens among snakes. The tastiness of the product as feed for snakes may be particularly high among species that consume the most avian prey: boa constrictor, carpet python / diamond python, and corn snake. It is noteworthy that all four of the mentioned species are at least partially arboreal.

The author concludes that for many snake species, introducing small chickens as food may be easier than in the case of other feed animals. This means that chicks could be the answer in situations where snakes refuse food or help in learning to consume the target diet element by transferring the scent, for example, from a piece of chicken to a mouse, or rat of similar weight in grams.



The article was prepared based on the analysis: Suitability of day-old chicks as food for captive snakes, authored by: K. Arbuckle.

Article text: inessiwinska@gmail.com

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