Geoff McCabe

The “Cadillac of Chicken Coops”

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Permaculture Chicken Coop in Costa Rica

We have 87 chickens as I write this, in four different age categories, since they were purchased at various times.

They are all females. Contrary to popular rumor, a rooster isn’t necessary for the eggs. We don’t want a male because they’re so noisy. They just don’t crow in the early morning. They crow all night, and my girlfriend Yasmin is a light sleeper.

Currently, our chickens are producing around 12 eggs per day, but as more of them get older, we should eventually be getting one per day from every chicken.

What Our Chickens Eat

Three things:

Chicken feed from the local “cooperativa” (Mainly Costa Rican grown non-GMO corn.)
Kitchen scraps

We let them loose during the day and they run around the orchards, eating bugs and fertilizing for us.

I’d love to let them into our shade structure to clear out the bugs there, but they would also eat all our baby plants. Like goats, chickens will eat just about anything. Inside their coop area, not one blade of grass will grow.

First organic eggs

Yasmin with “Black Betty” (our first chicken) and her first two eggs.

Chicken Predators in Costa Rica

It turns out that chickens are on the menu for an incredible number of wild animals, and we’ve had to learn to protect them from everything. After losing 28 chickens at various times, we haven’t lost any more to predators.

The first chickens started dying in October… 6 or 8 at a time, sometimes with the heads missing, and bodies half eaten or left to rot. Our workers blamed our little chihuahua “Zeus” because he loved to chase them, but we thought that was impossible. Eventually we found footprints and realized the culprit was coyotes. They killed chickens both during the night or during the day when no one was watching. We solved that problem by building a stronger, chain-link fence around the coop. Within days however, more chickens were being slaughtered at night, and we found that a fox was climbing over the fence… we could see his muddy footprints as he scaled the chain link. So we learned the hard way that foxes (but not coyotes) can climb nearly as well as cats.

Tropical chicken coop design

Egg-laying boxes, designed so that we can pull out the eggs without entering the chicken coop.

We were also worried about other animals… boa constrictors that could pass through the chain link holes. Owls at night. Hawks during the day. Various types of wild cats such as pumas, ocelots, caucels, jagurundis, etc will eat chickens. So will raccoons. Vampire bats can kill a chicken in one night.

There are animals that can burrow under the fence, pass through it, or fly over it. We thought about electrifying the fence, but that seemed dangerous.

Our final solution, which has worked so far, was that we simply put two lights on the chicken coop, which we turn on at night. All the wild animals so far will stay away from a well-lit area at night.

Tropical Chicken Coop Design

Tropical Chicken Coop Design

Our chicken coop, with double layers of security from predators.

I did a a bit of research on the internet before designing our chicken coop. I didn’t like anything I found and didn’t like the ones I visited around Costa Rica. So I invented my own. The coop has a few innovations that are perhaps unique in the chicken coop world:

1. The boxes for egg laying have doors open to the outside so that we can take out the eggs without going into the chicken coop.
2. The whole thing is elevated to a height so that many predators can’t get inside it. The door can be closed at night, and together with the outside fence, there are then two layers of security for the chickens.
3. The floor is just a grid, so most of the poop falls through and we can collect it from underneath to use making compost or soil.

Many people ask me how we get the chickens to go into the coop at night. The answer is that they go there on their own towards dusk. They know it’s a safe place… their home, and they don’t need to be coaxed back into the pen or into the coop.