Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 12-31-12
December 31, 2012
Ever since Biblical times, snakes have been associated with evil and deception. They lurk in tall grass and dark underbrush, lying in wait for unsuspecting victims. This makes them seem more sinister than other predators that are more overt in their predation. Since we moved to the Texas Hill Country 15 years ago, watching for snakes has become second nature. Here, it seems that rattlesnakes coil under every rock pile, and water moccasins hide in every creek. It was weird to go horseback riding through the mountains in Alaska and not look for snakes as I stepped off my horse to stretch my legs. My guide had to keep reminding me that it was too cold for snakes.
But farm animals aren't always as wary as we are. In fact, when they see a snake in the grass, their curiosity sometimes overrides their initial caution. One of my friend's calves was feeding in a small lot with several others when it noticed something unusual on the ground, something it had never encountered before. It had interesting variegated markings on its back, a tiny black tongue that zipped in and out of its invisible mouth and a loud noisemaker attached to its tail. As the calf approached the creature to get a better look, he spotted a few stray range cubes on the ground and instinctively lolled out his tongue to lap them up. When he did, the rattlesnake bit him on the tongue. My friend heard the snake rattling too late to be considered a warning.
In a few days, the edge of the calf's tongue was swollen and hard to the touch. Soon it began turning black. The vet cut part of the tongue away in hopes of saving the calf's life. But before the stitches even dissolved, the venom continued its deadly work and spread to the live tissue. In a few days, more flesh had blackened and had to be removed. Even after three surgeries and massive amounts of antibiotics, the calf passed away. It had surely suffered pain and trauma as it struggled to overcome the deadly dose of poison. Quick death would have been preferable.
Another friend's cow had a run-in with a rattlesnake. My friend and his granddad been watching her and several other cows as they milled around the water trough, grazing. The spring nights were still chilly but the afternoons had been warming up into the high 70s as summer loomed on the May horizon. As she bent down to nip the tender tops of the grass sprouting under a creep feeder, a hidden rattlesnake nailed her right on the tongue. My friend heard the tell-tale buzzing too late to react.
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Instead of lingering and fighting the effects of the toxic venom, that cow took a few steps away from the feeder and fell to the ground. The men saw her go down and went to see if there was anything they could do to help her. Her large glassy eyes stared unblinking at the afternoon sun. She was motionless.
"Dang it!" they said at once. "She's dead." Realizing that the cow was beyond reviving, they went to dispatch the snake. My friend got his shotgun out of the truck and found the snake still coiled under the feeder. He shot and killed the perpetrator, and spared the lives of his other cows, his dogs and maybe even his own. ❖