Menu

There’s A Snake In The Chicken House!

Watching Nature: Backyard And BeyondBy Jim Renfro

Texas Master Naturalist
Contributing Columnist

TEXAS RAT SNAKE (Photo by Jim Renfro)TEXAS RAT SNAKE (Photo by Jim Renfro)The Lady of Birdsong Hill raises chickens for eggs and for other things. Last year she bought a state-of-the-art, commercially built hen house termed a chicken tractor. It has wheels, can be moved around and truly is ideal for a small flock of layers.

However, that house, the high tech feed and other stuff brings the unit cost of an egg for breakfast in at about $2 each. Plus, a couple of our hens are in retirement and produce no eggs; never name your chickens!

With only five active laying hens, measuring production is easy; it is usually about six eggs per week per laying hen. When production drops off, like to one total per day, some outside factor must be at work.

Recently, production yield was down to one or two per day, for about three days. On the fourth day, the head hen (spouse) announced "there's a snake in the chicken tractor behind the nest boxes." Yes, there sure was a snake in the chicken tractor behind the nest boxes.

After extraction from the hen house with a modified one-iron, alive, the intruder was identified as a Texas Rat Snake. This species is common in our area, and a known carnivorous predator, rodents and the like. An agile climber, Rat Snakes are particularly famous for raiding bird nests, even high in trees. Non-venomous; they are not dangerous to humans.

Rat Snakes can and will bite in self-defense; their teeth are small and are designed for swallowing prey (like our eggs). Texas Rat Snake is probably the one we colloquially refer to as "chicken snake". They are long, slender, have a rounded head, and are generally dark with a blotchy, cross hatch body pattern. Six feet in length is about the longest I've seen.

Our captive was a young one, a little over 3 feet long and maybe an inch in diameter. It was far too small to harm the hens but had been consuming eggs.

Later, the snake was relocated far away from our place; it was not killed. The very next day a second and larger Rat Snake...almost 6 feet...was captured entering the chicken tractor through the one inch mesh, welded-wire side walls. Rat Snake Number 2 likewise left the property and egg production was restored to normal.

Another truly harmless species encountered around that same time was an Eastern Hognose Snake. This one was about 24 inches, heavy set and was found under some shrubs.

Our specimen was almost black, had a red belly and discernable cross-hatch pattern on its back. Its head was the width of the body and featured an up-turned "hog" shaped nose. Hognose snakes can also be much lighter in color. When moved with the snake hook, this guy became agitated. It hissed and spread its head as we see cobras do in nature shows. Hognose Snakes will also play dead when attacked. They feed primarily on toads. Without a dangerous bite capability, this species defends itself by acting mean followed by faking death. Hognose Snake is sometimes mistakenly called a Puff Adder, which is a dangerous, venomous species native to North Africa.

It is not my intention to be a snake groupie (herpephile), or even their cheerleader. Most people become uncomfortable when snakes are near.

However, snakes have a very important place in the environment, and on our place. It is sometimes necessary to dispatch venomous snakes, near people, such as coral snake, copperhead and cottonmouth.

When confronted with any snake, stand clear, try to identify, move away and leave them unharmed to fulfill their niche in nature.

Students Attend Youth Leadership Conference

Chris Stephenson, P. J. Lewis, Kadie Richburg, Victoria Martin, Monica Davila and (front) Micheala Gilpin recently represented Houston County at the 51st annual Texas Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Conference in Stephenville.  The Houston County Farm Bureau sponsored the six students. (Courtesy Photo)Chris Stephenson, P. J. Lewis, Kadie Richburg, Victoria Martin, Monica Davila and (front) Micheala Gilpin recently represented Houston County at the 51st annual Texas Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Conference in Stephenville. The Houston County Farm Bureau sponsored the six students. (Courtesy Photo)

STEPHENVILLE - Chris Stephenson, P. J. Lewis, Kadie Richburg, Victoria Martin, Monica Davila and Micheala Gilpin, all sponsored by the Houston County Farm Bureau, attended the Texas Farm Bureau's 51st annual Youth Leadership Conference (YLC) at Tarleton State University, June 16-20. They joined more than 305 high school juniors and seniors from over 120 counties across the state.

The purpose of the conference is to provide the students with a better understanding of their American heritage, the capitalistic free enterprise system, and to inspire leadership development, said Than Richburg, president of the Houston County Farm Bureau.

During the weeklong event, three areas are emphasized: Patriotism, Leadership and Responsibility. Students discuss topics on the free enterprise system, the Constitution, money management, leadership and goal setting, and are encouraged to meet with school and civic groups upon their return home to share what they've learned.

"We are extremely proud to sponsor area students to attend this important program, which aims to encourage and develop the future leaders of Texas," Richburg said.

Tarleton State University President Dr. Dominic Dottavio welcomed students to campus and Vernie R. Glasson, executive director of Texas Farm Bureau, presented "Farm Bureau – Your Host" at Monday's opening session.

Dr. Ed Rister, Agricultural Economics and Entrepreneurship professor of Texas A&M University, presented sessions on "Basics of Free Enterprise," Ronald Trowbridge, former assistant dean at Hillsdale College in Michigan, presented sessions on "The Constitution," Lou Kennedy, a professional development consultant, led a session on "Professionalism in Life," and Gary Evans, a registered investment advisor, offered advice on "Managing Your Money."

Gary Montgomery, a motivational communicator and story-teller from Louisville, KY presented sessions on "Public Speaking." Special evening events included a presentation on Tuesday by Damian Mason on "Humor for the Heart of Youth Leadership Conference: a hilarious look at the future of America of America and Agriculture" and on Wednesday a music/devotional performance by Mark Swayze.

In addition, students participated on Thursday in a program called "Congressional Insight," which allowed them to simulate a Congressional office and election.

At Thursday evening's banquet, Gary Montgomery shared his personal message of "Living with an I CAN PLAY attitude!"

Students who complete the Youth Leadership Conference and have given a speech on free enterprise to at least five groups will have taken the first step toward qualifying for the Free Enterprise Speech contest, which awards more than $19,000 in scholarships.

After qualifying, students compete at the district level and the winners advance to finals at the TFB Annual Meeting in Corpus Christi in December.

The six state finalists will receive additional scholarships and an expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. with TFB representatives in the summer of 2015.

Homicide Detective From Crime Series ‘Cold Justice’ Visits Crockett Lions Club

Photo by Lynda Jones Retired Houston Homicide Detective Lt. Johnny Bonds shared some laughs with his long-time friend, Houston County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Clyde Black during the Tuesday, July 8 Crockett Lions Club meeting.  Bonds spoke to the club about his highest profile case and his role in the TNT reality crime series, “Cold Justice”.Retired Houston Homicide Detective Lt. Johnny Bonds shared some laughs with his long-time friend, Houston County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Clyde Black during the Tuesday, July 8 Crockett Lions Club meeting. Bonds spoke to the club about his highest profile case and his role in the TNT reality crime series, “Cold Justice”. (Photo by Lynda Jones)

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

Retired Homicide Detective Lt. Johnny Bonds first made a name for himself as "The Cop Who Wouldn't Quit" after solving the gruesome 1979 murder of an affluent Houston family.

Now, although he has been retired for six years, he still isn't quitting.

Passionate about solving murder cases, finding answers for the victims' families and putting killers behind bars, Bonds now appears in the TNT reality crime series "Cold Justice".

On the television show, Bonds, along with former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler and a former Las Vegas CSI, Yolanda McClary, investigate "cold" murder cases - those that have been unsolved for a number of years in small towns.

Bonds was in Crockett Tuesday, July 8, to speak to the Crockett Lions Club. He was invited by a long-time friend and former colleague, Houston County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 Clyde Black.

Bonds discussed the brutal 1979 murders of John and Diana Wanstrath and their 14-month-old son, Kevin, in Houston.

The deaths originally were ruled a murder-suicide although no gun was found at the scene. Bonds worked relentlessly on the case until he eventually solved it, proving it was murder.

The tragedy and Bonds' persistence in solving the case are the subject of the book titled "The Cop Who Wouldn't Quit".

Bonds also talked to the Lions Club members and several members of Houston County's law enforcement community about the show, "Cold Justice".

He said the show was Siegler's idea. Before retiring, he worked as an investigator for the Harris County DA's office when Siegler was an ADA.
Saying he "kinda likes being retired", Bonds explained he only signed on to work half of the cases for the show.

Bonds explained their focus is on cold cases in small rural communities where law enforcement resources and manpower are limited.
When the team takes on a case, the network provides funding for them to investigate for 10 days. Of course, he said, there are many hours of preparatory research before they accept a case and before they go to a case location.

He emphasized that the team does not take a case unless the responsible law enforcement agency invites them to help. It is not sufficient for family members to request the team's assistance; he reiterated that it has to be a request from the responsible law enforcement agency.
Additionally, there needs to be a suspect and a reasonable expectation to be able to find witnesses who can testify, he explained.
He said that for those 10 days, he, Siegler and McClary wear a wire from 7 a.m. until the end of that work day. Camera crews stay out of sight and in separate vehicles.

When the team finishes, then personnel from the cable network approach and ask individuals to sign releases.
Bonds said he has been amazed at how easily the releases are signed by suspects.

In terms of successfully solving cases, Bonds said they have far exceeded their expectations for the show.

There haven't been many confessions, he said, and only one case has been cleared by DNA testing.

Bonds said DNA testing is very expensive. Between $15,000 - $30,000 per show is spent on DNA testing. That is the price of getting results in two or three days.

For law enforcement agencies without these financial resources, Bonds said, it can take a year or more to get results.

Bonds said 95% of the cold cases cleared are with circumstantial evidence. A favorite witness for investigators, he said, is an ex-spouse who is eager to tell what he or she knows about a suspect's involvement in a case.

He explained that, to the team, a case is successfully solved if they find enough evidence for a district attorney to take to a grand jury and request an indictment of the suspect.

Members of Houston County's law enforcement community that attended the Lions Club meeting to hear Bonds speak included Houston County Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt, Retired Crockett Police Dept. Sgt. Doug King, HCSO Deputy Lt. Justin Killough, Constable Pct. 1 Morris Luker and others. Houston County Judge Erin Ford and State District 3 Judge Mark Calhoon also attended.

Crockett Celebrates Star-Spangled Parade

These figurines on the Windy Hill Farm vehicle illustrate the Crockett Downtown Beautification Corporation’s parade theme, A Star-Spangled Fourth.  The float won first place. (Lynda Jones Photo)These figurines on the Windy Hill Farm vehicle illustrate the Crockett Downtown Beautification Corporation’s parade theme, A Star-Spangled Fourth. The float won first place. (Lynda Jones Photo)

Winners of the Star-Spangled Fourth of July hosted by the Crockett Downtown Beautification Corporation are Windy Hill Farm, first place parade float; Lions Club Rodeo Queen float, second place; Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce float, third place; Benjamin Burke, first place apple pie; Corey Ainsworth, second place apple pie; Virginia Lewis, third place apple pie; Corey Ainsworth, first place peach ice cream; Darcie Cocoran, second place strawberry ice cream; J. R. Ingersoll, first place bicycle; Zoey and Oliver Jimenez, second place bicycle (wagon); and Maggie Williams, third place bicycle (scooter).

The Parade Marshal was James Waldrop, and Tim Allen served as emcee of ceremonies outside the courthouse.

Children Enjoy Week Of Missoula Theatre

Missoula Theatre

Missoula Children's Theatre presented their production of "King Arthur's Quest" on Saturday, June 21. The show was a huge success with over 50 Houston County children participating in the production. The show was presented by the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association as part of its Arts-in-Education programs. PWFAA thanks all kids and parents who helped make this show a wonderful experience for the children!

Hunter And The Beanstalk

Hunter And The Beanstalk

Hunter Coker, 6, son of Timothy and Katherina Coker, is shown measuring his bean plant that now measures 8-feet tall. He started the plant with a bean while enrolled in Mrs. Stone's kindergarten class at Vista Academy in Crockett. (Courtesy Photo)