With every hard reality ranch folks have to face, there’s a corresponding confidence that grows in place of fear. You can ask any one of us. We’ve lived through things that should have turned us into cynics or scaredy cats. Somehow, the challenges and realities make us love this life even more, if that’s possible.
Anywhere in North America that the range is good for grazing cattle, you can pretty much bet you’ll find some rattlesnakes. Often, the dog, horse, or calf that’s bitten doesn’t make it; if they do, they are never the same. Only the animals that were in peak health will make it. I know two people who have survived a bite, and it was not easy for them. The infection it causes drains the immune system while also putting stress on the liver and kidneys because the venom is so toxic and dirty.
I was ten years old when I killed my first “coontail” (code for Diamondback Rattlesnake). I found him in the corral, near the fence. Somehow, my slight little frame climbed the fence with a partially-licked-off block of livestock salt (which weighs about 50 lbs), and dropped it on the rattlesnake. Then I went and got my mom. I had, by then, developed quite an independent streak.
About a year later, I shot one with a 4.10 shotgun right off the back steps. My five year old sister had almost stepped on it. It was a pretty good sized snake. I still have the ‘buttons’ (the rattler on the end of his tail). My sister and I used to compete at collecting buttons from my mom and dad. It’s funny that some things that ought to truly terrify us can somehow become so routine, we forget our vulnerability.
One fall morning, early, before light, I went to feed the horses for my dad. It was a little chilly and I was groggy. The light switch was on the opposite wall from the door, so I had to cross the room in pitch black dark. I tripped at the door and almost ate it on the concrete floor, and when I finally turned on the light, I was in for a real surprise. I had tripped over a four-foot long Diamondback stretched across the threshold! I was not about to go out the same way. I had to crawl out a hole in the feed room wall to go get help for that one.
I shake my head now as I write this, knowing all the close calls I have had and even laughed about. Today as a mom of two little kids under age three, I shudder when I think of the inevitable encounter they’ll have one day when I relax enough to not hold their hands and patrol the corral and yard first.
Last year, as I was learning all the unspoken fears of motherhood, my husband and I discovered some baby coontails in our yard. You can see why we call them that, as they have black and white striped tails. The fear of them seized me like never before.
But here is where faith comes in. I prayed that I could find and kill every snake that would be a threat. I found a couple of the babies, but in my heart I feared there were more. I became specific in my prayers and asked God to send natural predators in force to our house and barn. I turned to him with all my heart for protection, because as the summer went on, I was less and less able to keep up with my toddler outside because we were expecting our son at the end of August. (Seven or eight months of pregnancy tend to slow a gal down, you know.)
Can you guess what God did? He sent a pair of road runners to my yard and let me see one every day. He also gave us a litter of kittens, a batch of guinea fowl, and a couple of bull snakes (a ‘good’ snake that competes with rattlesnakes for food and eats their young). My God reassured me every day that He was looking out for us. We have only seen one snake around the house since, and my husband killed it. God has a very good record when it comes to taking care of me and mine.
We can never totally escape the snakes. This year one of my daughters cats and also, my husbands horse, were bitten. The cat disappeared, and I feared the worst, but she returned after a week as normal as could be. The horse was a rather large expense, but he made it, too. We kept him up at the house in our carport (when he came home from the vet, that is) and the kids and I pampered him and tried to help him recover. This horse was never dog-gentle, but after the snake he suffered some “PTSD” and was even less friendly. I used my essential oils on him, prayed for him, my daughter sang to him, and I petted him as much as he would let me. His recovery is almost complete now, and I am thankful for the grace that brought the healing.
Five years ago, my dog, Bek, ran into a large diamondback rattler while I was mowing the yard. Poor pup! Her life was saved by quick thinking, prayer, and a good vet. She’s never fully recovered mentally, but her lapses in intelligence are endearing and usually comical. I’m so thankful just to have her with me still.
Rattlesnakes aren’t a big deal to us, but then again, they are. We never wake up in the morning thinking about them but it’s highly likely we will see a few from spring to fall. Nobody wakes up planning to hunt down and kill snakes all day. We don’t like killing them any more than we like seeing them, but it must be done to protect our livestock, horses, pets and family. Dangers like poisonous reptiles are insignificant compared to the rewards of ranching, and I’m not talking about money. Sharing the rangeland with all its’ creatures is a blessing few in our modern times can claim, and I wouldn’t trade that blessing for a man-made, snake-free world.
“Is there really a deadly rattlesnake lurking around every corner on a ranch? Really?” you wonder.
Well, my answer to that is no. But if you don’t expect to see one under every rock, you’re in for a heart attack at least once every summer. Rattlesnakes are a reality we all learn to deal with. In the end, it’s just part of it.