The majority of snakes kept in captivity require mammals or birds to eat and it is most common for these to be fed to them dead.
Feeding dead animals to a snake means there is less chance of damage being done to your snake during an attack in the narrow confines of a vivarium and additionally it is arguably kinder to the prey item. In some countries it is also illegal to feed live rodents to snakes and so feeding dead specimens circumvents these issues.
For the exotic pet keeper of course keeping a selection of dead prey items in your freezer is also a lot easier than keeping and breeding a range of mice, gerbils and so on in order to have a constant supply of livefood available. Indeed, not having to worry about cleaning and feeding the prey items themselves will considerably cut down on the work you have to do in order to keep your pets fit and healthy.
Personally speaking I keep all my frozen snake food carefully shut away in plastic tupperware boxes, each carefully labelled with the contents, and these boxes are all placed into a specific drawer of my freezer. In over 15 years of keeping dead rodents in my home freezer in this way I have never suffered from any ill health when taking into consideration basic hygiene routines like washing your hands between touching the rodents and any food for human consumption.
Frozen rodents constitute the most popular form of snake food on the market today for a variety of reasons. Firstly rodents are available in a wide range of sizes from tiny newborn mice suitable for baby corn snakes, king snakes and the like right up to full-grown rats suitable for good-sized pythons.
This means that once your snake develops a taste for rodents it can serve as a life-time food source as you simply increase the size of the prey items, the number of prey items or the frequency of feeding as the snake grows.
Secondly rodents are easy to breed and grow quickly so they can be produced cheaply and easily by breeders in ethical surroundings so the rodents themselves have a decent quality of life before being “dispatched” for use as snake food. With most snakes only needing to be fed once or twice a week, and with the low cost of buying frozen rodents as snake food it can be a very economical method of reptile feeding.
Whilst there is a limited market for gerbils as snake food the vast majority of sales are for mice and rats. Baby mice are less than an inch in length and so can be used for the hatchlings of most commonly-kept snakes. Adult mice are ideal for adult corn snakes and similarly-sized snakes and the gradations inbetween the two ensure that there is always a suitably-sized meal available irrespective of the size of your snake.
Larger snakes can be moved into rats as a food source and my own royal python/ball python now takes half-grown rats on a weekly basis which have worked out far more cost effective than trying to give him 2 or 3 large adult mice at a feeding.
For those keeping giant snakes like the huge species of python – those generally not safe to keep in the home – some suppliers make frozen guinea pigs and rabbits available as prey items.
Frozen chicks are sometimes available in bulk packs but tend to be far less popular as snake food than rodents. This is partly because they are harder to come by, partly because there have been concerns raised by some snake keepers about the dangers of the sharp beaks that these chicks possess which could rupture a snake’s gut and lastly because generally-speaking it seems they offer less nutrition than a rodent of an equal size. Generally there isn’t much “meat” on a frozen chick when compared to a mouse or rat.
One factor in their favour is that they are an unwanted side-shoot of the poultry industry. Most poultry farmers want hens for egg laying and so the cocks are of little financial use to them. As a result the majority are disposed of as soon as they hatch and one way to recoup a little of that lost investment is by selling the dead chicks as snake food.
Contrast this to mice and rats which have been specially bred as snake food and you can understand why chicks tend to be cheaper overall than rodents.