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 of the “modern” designs. Today, the most popular chicken coops are actually the cheapest, and the “best” coops in the eyes manufacturers are coops that ship inexpensively– that means lightweight and low-grade materials. 100 years ago, however, coops were built very differently.
The hundred-year-old chicken coop at Hawk Hill features a concrete pad, a raised run with concrete retaining wall, thick interior beams, and solid wood siding. With a roof kept in good repair, this siding has survived decades. Although it needed repairs when I moved my chickens into what had been used only as a storage space for many years, I didn’t have to replace any exterior paneling or structural part – just some reinforcements on the inside. Although the unprotected structure of 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.
If you have an abandoned chicken coop on your property, consider how you could put it to work today. Countless chicken coops on aging farms of the rural Midwest are purposed today as outbuildings for unwanted stuff or garden equipment, but with minor renovations, these coops can be converted into luxurious modern chicken coops.
Because, generally, older chicken coops are made so well, renovating them for modern chicken keeping is much much easier than purchasing and assembling a modern chicken coop. Additionally, 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 larger coops can accommodate a smaller flock as well, giving the birds more fresh air and more room to move around, which results in healthier, less stressed chickens.
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 this post, I’ve outlined some of my favorite features about my vintage chicken coop that are missing in modern 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.
As the construction of new chicken houses 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.
Features I Love About My Old Fashion Chicken Coop:
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 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 Slep 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” 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! Since from 2010-2015, I did lots of repairs and upgrades to make this coop a comfortable, renovated home for modern chickens.
Modern upgrades to my old coop:
- I lined the walls in plywood to reinforce the aging outer siding and added insulation.
- 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).
- Adding Nesting boxes with reach-through doors from the outside
- Rebuilding the outdoor run atop the existing foundation (the original run was long rotted away)
- Construction of ventilated doors for coop and run.
- 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.
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:
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.
How to renovate an old chicken coop for use today
Check Structural Soundness
There’s no point renovating an old coop that’s likely to blow over in the next big storm. 100 years ago, most coops were built much stronger than necessary, so if it’s stood this long, chances are good the building is in good shape, but double check to be sure, and if appropriate, call in a structural engineer to be on the safe side. Consider Reinforcing beams or adding additional support columns.
Repair Leaks in Roof
Chickens need a safe, dry space to thrive. Making sure the roof is predator proof and rain proof is an important step. If the roof is rotting, removing shingles and replace with corrugated metal or fiberglass for an easy roof replacement. Translucent corrugated roofing panels can help get more light into your coop, helping chickens stay healthier and lay more eggs.
Check Siding, Plug Leaks, and Insulate
Most old chicken coops have wood siding that may be rotting away. Depending on the condition it may need to be replaced, patched, or just reinforced. If the paneling is in mostly ok shape, use spray foam to fill any gaps, then add an insulating material on the inside. Link your coop with insulation or just extra scrap materials- a layer of material adds insulation and reinforces the old boards in case of a predator attack.
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
100 years ago, chicken keeping was often the work of kids- so many old coops are set up in a way that requires an adult to enter, stoop under a low roof, and collect eggs from dark nesting boxes. But egg collection can be so much easier! Cut holes behind your nesting boxes for easy access, and line nesting boxes with artificial turf for easy cleaning.
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
Bring your new chickens home
Once you’ve renovated your old chicken coop into a safe, modern home for chickens, it’s time to bring chickens home! While I prefer adopting adult hens from a poultry market, you can also raise baby chickens in your coop with a few adjustments to turn your coop temporarily into a brooder.
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.