An old chicken coop can still work great for keeping chickens today – in fact, it may even be a far better home for chickens than many modern chicken coop designs.
In this post, I’ll show you some of the ways that the clever builders of my 100-year-old chicken coop planned smartly for ways to:
- 🥚🐔 increase egg production
- 🧹make the coop easier to clean
- 💧 improve drainage
- 💨🐤and keep birds healthier through better ventilation.
The problem with modern coops
Today, the most popular chicken coops are actually the cheapest, and the “best” coops in the eyes of manufacturers are coops that ship inexpensively– that means lightweight and low-grade materials.
100 years ago, however, coops were built very differently. Read on to learn about the benefits of rehabbing an old chicken coop for chicken keeping.
My Modernized 100-year-old Chicken Coop
The hundred-year-old chicken coop at Hawk Hill features:
- An elevated concrete pad foundation (gravity makes cleanout a breeze!)
- A raised run with a concrete retaining wall, (which improves drainage and eliminates standing water)
- Thick interior beams (that have supported the coop for 100 years!)
- Long sloped roof (saving construction costs while still allowing a human to enter upright)
- Solid wood siding (Which is easy to repair, insulate, and maintain)
Although it needed repairs when I moved my chickens into this old coop, I didn’t have to replace any exterior paneling or structural parts. Because it had been a storage space for many years, it did need some waterproofing and repairs. Although the wood structure protecting the exterior run had rotted away long before, it was a one-day project to add posts, beams, and wire mesh to create a modern chicken run.
Rehabbing your Old Chicken Coop for Modern Chickenkeeping
If you have an abandoned chicken coop on your property, consider how you could put it to work today. Countless chicken coops still stand, abandoned, on aging farms of the rural Midwest. Often, they are used as storage for unwanted stuff and garden equipment. With minor renovations, these coops can be converted into luxurious modern chicken coops.
Because, older chicken coops were made so well, renovating them for modern chicken keeping is much much easier than purchasing and assembling a modern chicken coop.
More Space = More Eggs
Modern chicken coops are designed to be as small as possible, while older chicken coops were often designed on a bit larger scale. Many families that kept chickens didn’t just have laying hens, they also raised their own chickens for meat and may have earned extra income by raising extra chickens for meat or eggs.
These large old chicken coops can accommodate a smaller flock as well. Putting chickens in an oversized coop gives the birds more fresh air and more room to move around. This extra space results in healthier, less stressed chickens that lay more eggs. Larger coops are great for heritage breed chickens, which seem to thrive when given more a little more space than modern varieties.
No Old Coop? Here’s how To Build a Modern Coop with Old Fashioned Benefits
If you aren’t lucky enough to have an old chicken coop on your property, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of one of these sturdy older style coops. In the rest of this article, I outlined some of my favorite features of my vintage chicken coop that are missing in modern chicken coop designs. If you’re building your own coop, you can integrate these older building techniques to create a stronger, healthier, and easier-to-maintain chicken coop.
I’m not actually sure how old my chicken coop is but the house at Hawk Hill was built pre-1920’s and the dimensions of the lumber in the coop, as well as the style of the foundation, seem to indicate the coop was erected around the same time. Because of construction similarities, I suspect this coop and the original horse barn were built around the same time as the house, making both about 100 years old.
Because the construction of new chicken coops is again popular, I thought it might be helpful to share a coop still standing from the previous generation of folks who raised backyard chickens.
Note: This post shows the external features of the coop, for an internal view see my post on 100 Year Old Chicken Coop – INTERIOR.
1. A long and low sloped roof
The long and low room of my coop maximizes floor space for the chickens and would have cut the original builder’s material costs in half. It also helps redirect lots of rainwater far away from the uncovered chicken run.
The enclosed part of this coop measures 12ft x 10ft. It has a door on both sides, under the tallest part of the roof. The coop is just tall enough that I, at 5’6″, can walk through without stooping. At the tall end, the rafters are about 6′ from the floor, on the short end the rafters are just 2-3 feet above the floor. The shorter end can be a bit of a pain to clean, but the well-thought-out size means that with a slight stoop, a rake can reach the shortest end easily.
2. Elevated Floor for Easy Cleanout
A bank barn is a style of old barn that’s built into a hill- so the flat foundation results in a partially buried barn. This coop seems to be the inverse of that- using the natural slope of the land to make one door to the coop ground level and the other elevated (just right to simple shove soiled bedding into a waiting wheelbarrow without any need to scoop or shovel).
I discuss this further and show pictures on my post about the interior of my old chicken coop, but because my coop is built into a slope, the “back door” of my coop has a threshold that is roughly 18-24″ above the ground. This rise is perfect for parking a wheelbarrow under, allowing bedding clean out to be a simple process of sweeping bedding into the waiting wheelbarrow below.
3. A “Raised-Bed” Style Chicken Run
I think the smartest part of this vintage coop design is the outdoor run that is basically a large raised bed (like you’d find in a garden) with thick concrete sides. This design made the run easy to predator-proof and means mud and puddles are never a problem in the chicken run- even heavy downpours drain off immediately.
Rather than standard concrete, a mixture of gravel was added to the concrete, saving the original builders money and creating a foundation that endures. (In my last old home, the builder used large decorative rocks to stretch the concrete of the foundation, as was common practice then)
Renovating my 100-Year-Old Chicken Coop:
When I bought Hawk Hill in late 2010 this coop was a rotting, leaking building used for storage. In fact, the very first bird I put inside escaped through a loose board in the siding in what I’m sure was a very comical scene! In the 2010’s, I did lots of repairs and upgrades to make this coop a comfortable, renovated modern chicken coop.
Modern upgrades I did to my old coop:
- I insulated my chicken coop by lining the walls with plywood to reinforce the aging outer siding.
- After adding interior plywood, I used expanding foam to fill gaps and cracks that were creating drafts in the winter (read more about coop winterization here).
- Added nesting boxes with reach-through doors from the outside
- Rebuilt the outdoor run atop the existing foundation (the original run was long rotted away)
- Constructed ventilated doors for both sides of the coop.
- Interior waterproofing
- Grazing boxes added to run to provide fresh greens (when free-ranging wasn’t possible)
- Addition of an electrical outlet by an electrician.
- Timed lighting to increase winter egg production
- Upgrading to Astro-Turf nesting material.
More photos of my restored 1920’s Chicken Coop:
These reach-through nesting boxes were added in 2013 and made collecting eggs so much more fun! These nesting boxes were easily added by hanging small wood shipping crates on the inside of the old chicken coop, cutting holes in the exterior wall, and installing doors. We’ve not had any predator problems, and this rotating wood block style lock has, so far, been sufficient to keep hens safe.
I love cheering the coop up with a little bit of simple landscaping, inside and out. It’s taken some experimentation, but I’ve managed to collect a list of plants that will grow inside my chicken run, helping keep it a shady, comfortable spot for my chickens to lounge. Planters seem to keep the chickens from doing too much damage when they are free ranging. The coop sits on a very prominent spot on my property, so it is a nice canvas to decorate for the seasons. I really like how the thick concrete foundation of the coop corrects for the changing slope of the property in this area.
Love sneaking in some equestrian decor into the garden, see the DIY tutorial for this halter flower holder here:
And here’s a shot of my barred rock hen, Eleanor, enjoying the chicken run (and the Rhode Island Red, Trudy, hiding behind the plant in the center). You may notice I have quite a few plants surviving in my run- read more about my methods for keeping green growth in a chicken run.
Want to see inside?
For interior views of my 100 year old coop, see my article on My Chicken Coop’s Interior.
How to Renovate an Old Chicken Coop:
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With a little TLC, many of the neglected old chicken coops that still stand as outbuildings on old farms and farmhouses-turned-suburban can easily be rehabilitated to house a “modern” flock of laying hens. Rehabbing a derelict chicken coop can be much, much more affordable than building a new coop- and often old coops have amazing features, like the ones described above, that modern chicken coops do not.
Check Structural Soundness
Repair Leaks in Roof
Check Siding, Plug Leaks, and Insulate
Construction grade bubble-wrap insulation works great to reinforce paneling, provide extra warmth in winter, add security, and brighten up the dark interior of an old chicken coop. It’s easy to install with just scissors and a staple gun.
Renovate Nesting Boxes
Fence a New Chicken Run
Manage Lighting and Ventilation
Many old chicken coops sitting aside old homes have been used for storage for decades, and at some point were likely closed up to protect stored goods from excess moisture. Chickens need plenty of fresh air to stay healthy and happily laying, so evaluate where you can cut a new window or replace a panel with a screen. My coop had two solid wood doors which I replaced with sturdy homemade screen doors.
Consider installing timed lighting to increase winter egg production