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Day Old Chicks as a staple diet for captive snakes

I first started keeping snakes about 5 years ago, and have found many people along the way willing to damn day-old chicks as the main diet for snakes. The reasoning is usually the same; that rodents are more representative of a snake's natural diet, that chicks are supposedly fatty, or nutritionally lacking, and that they should only be fed as a 'treat'. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, and in this case, chicks have become the staple food for my snakes.

How suitable are Chicks for feeding snakes?

I keep both a Colombian Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria maurus), a tropical, semi-aboreal snake species from South America, and a Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), a ground-dwelling species from the North American praries. Since growing to a large enough size to eat day-old chicks (roughly, when they reached the 3ft mark), that is what I have chosen to be their main food source, with the very occasional rodent. For the Rainbow Boa in particular, avian prey may indeed be more representative of a natural diet, as most climbing snake-species will actively hunt out nests of young birds. Whilst the Bullsnake is ground-dwelling, and more likely to encounter rodent prey, it has been show in scientific studies that rodents and chicks are nutritionally equivalent, and interchangable as food for snakes [1].

Why rodents continue to be the food of choice among snake keepers, I'm not too sure. Often snakes become accustomed to a particular diet, and can refuse to feed on thawed chicks initially, after being fed a steady diet of rodents. Snakes are robust creatures, and adapted to prolonged waits between meals, so I would advise any keeper trying to wean a snake onto chicks to persist for several weeks before resorting to rodents again.

Why feed chicks instead of rodents?

The advantages of chicks over rodent prey, to me, are two-fold. Firstly, many Day-Old-Chicks come from the poultry industry, where males are culled, and females are kept to raise into egg-laying hens. Whilst the ethics of the poultry-industry are a completely seperate issue, it makes far more sense to me as a snake keeper to want to use chicks already available because of the human food trade, and which would otherwise be wasted, than to breed up rodents solely for snake food. The other huge advantage here is the price. As these chicks are otherwise wasted by the poultry trade in huge numbers, they are available at a very low cost compared to rodents.

Comparative pricing:

Here are the prices from a few UK websites offering both chicks and rodents, and their relative prices (* links to these websites can be found at the end of the article, however they are used purely for illustration and do not represent my own preferences or recommended suppliers):

Supplier #Chick price (each)Large Mouse price (each)Small Rat price (each)
[2]£0.04 - 0.13£0.51 - 0.69£1.25 - 1.45
[3]£0.04 - 0.10£0.54 - 1.59£1.15 - 1.60
[4]£0.08 - 0.12£0.52 - 0.86£1.40 - 1.82

As you can see, chicks are available for a fraction of the cost of similar-sized rodents, without compromising on nutrition, and should be considered a viable food source for many species of captive snakes.

If you have any further questions regarding snakes, diets or anything else on the site, please email me:
Paul Edmondson


[1] - K. Arbuckle, 'Suitability of day-old chicks as food for captive snakes' (2010)
[2] - prices (at time of publication) taken from FrozenReptile.co.uk
[3] - prices (at time of publication) taken from Livefoods.co.uk
[4] - prices (at time of publication) taken from Exotic-Pets.co.uk

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