One of my chores on the farm when I was growing up was to gather the eggs from our chickens and guineafowl. Guineafowl are a vaguely chicken-looking kind of bird that is raised much like chickens. They tend to eat ticks and are sometimes used to control those pests. That’s probably part of the reason my dad kept them. Although generally smaller than chickens, they taste much the same when cooked, and their pint-sized eggs make tasty omelets. Guineas are also wilder than chickens and I remember having to search much further afield to find their nests and eggs. It was an adventure.
In contrast to the guineafowl, our chickens tended to stay close to the chicken barn where they both nested and roosted. That made their eggs easier to find, and we ate fresh eggs for breakfast just about every morning. Some chickens would quit laying eggs if you took the ones they produced, so to keep those hens laying Dad would sometimes replace their real eggs with wooden ones painted white. The chickens didn’t seem to notice the difference. Apparently, neither did another creature that sometimes haunted our hen houses.
While we wanted our chickens and guineas, of course, one of the most undesirable visitors to our farm was a large variety of black snake that we called a chicken snake. They often grew four or five feet long, and I saw some as long as seven or eight feet. I never saw a chicken snake eat an actual chicken, but I found them coiled up in the hen’s nests at times when I was out gathering eggs. Those nests were almost always empty of eggs, although I don’t believe the snakes were quite so empty themselves.
One day, I found a big six-footer in one of the nests where Dad had placed some wooden eggs. The snake had already swallowed one “egg,” which made a noticeable bulge in its belly, and had a second in its mouth. I remember watching in fascination as its jaws and throat distended around the white oval of wood, which it slowly worked back into its throat.
Normally, chicken snakes swallow the eggs they steal whole and then crack them inside their bodies, either by muscular contraction, or by wrapping themselves around a rock or tree for some added help. They then absorb the nutrients and crap out the pieces of shell. That was not going to happen for this unfortunate egg thief. I couldn’t even imagine the pain he was going to experience when he tried to crap out two intact wooden eggs.
I figured it was nothing short of merciful to kill him with a hoe to the neck. I trust he would have done the same thing for me if our roles had been reversed.