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Adding Reach-Through Nesting Boxes to a Vintage Chicken Coop

Nesting boxes are a recent addition to my vintage 1920’s era chicken coop. Tired of retrieving eggs from plastic-totes-turned-nesting-boxes (which had a tendency to migrate across the floor of the coop!),  I mounted permanent nesting boxes that could be accessed without climbing into the coop. Along the way, I used a few cheats to make installation and maintenance a breeze- read on to learn more about how you can add functional, easy-to-clean reach through nesting boxes to your coop.

Starting Point: My Vintage Coop

Insulation, waterproofing, and rebuilding the run were the goals of the first season rehabbing this chicken coop. Later nesting boxes were added to this wall.
Insulation, waterproofing, and rebuilding the run were the goals of the first season rehabbing this chicken coop. Later nesting boxes were added to this wall.

Reach-through style nesting boxes are more common in modern chicken coops than they were in coops from generations past, and my coop is no exception. Built somewhere around 1910-1930, my coop has so many brilliant features I am in love with (you can read more about the unique features of my vintage coop on my coop walk-through page) but one thing it did not have was reach-through nesting boxes. In fact, when I purchased Hawk Hill this old chicken coop was falling into decay- with a leaking roof, drafty gaps between siding, and siding so loose that my first cooped bird escaped by pushing aside a loose board!  I began the work to bring this coop back to life in 2010. The bulk of renovating this antique chicken coop was in waterproofing the roof, filling cracks with expanding foam, and installing interior panels to insulate and reinforce the chicken coop. When those essentials were completed. I was ready to upgrade my coop to reach-through nesting boxes.

Shortcut to Installing Reach Through Nesting Boxes:

You can buy plans or build boxes from scratch to make nesting boxes, but my time saving cheat for installing these nesting boxes was repurposing shipping crates. (If you can’t find crates- read on for a cheap source for second-hand cabinets- which can also work) My father scored a few dozen medium-sized wood crates at a salvage yard for $2 each, and after I converted 8 of them to French provincial style flower boxes I had two boxes left, which I earmarked for use as nesting boxes.

converting wood shipping crates to nesting boxes

converting wood shipping crates to nesting boxes

The step by step process, which I’ll go into detail on below, is as follows:

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  1. Remove the bottom of the wood shipping crates.
  2. Turn crates onto their side and bolt them together.
  3. Plan placement, and construct doors for the new nesting boxes.
  4. Use saws-all or a jigsaw to cut a hole in the wall of the coop.
  5. Using brackets and support beams, securely mount crates so the missing bottom panel aligns with new hole in coop exterior.
  6. Attach new doors to coop exterior and add a secure latch or lock mechanism.
  7. Install nesting box liner and/or a rail or ladder for helping chickens access nesting boxes.

The trickiest part of installing these boxes might be constructing doors to cover your likely very uniquely-sized nesting box door. I bought a kreg jig a few years ago and it makes projects like this super fast: I just cut 1×6 lumber to a length 2-3inches larger than the coop’s new opening, and join the pieces side by side using a combination of wood glue and kreg-jig pocket holes, and then mount with basic hinges and a pivoting block of wood to keep the doors securely closed. Initially, this lock was a temporary measure until predator-proof lock could be installed, but in the years I’ve used this lock I’ve never had a problem with a predator getting it open, so never upgraded this lock.

This large, open wall facing the horse barn was the spot I picked to install my nesting boxes:

This large, open wall facing the horse barn was the spot I picked to install my nesting boxes

Screwed to the wall and supported by legs made of 2×4’s, installation of these shipping crates turned nesting boxes took 15 minutes! The most time consuming part was cutting the hole in the exterior wall.

Screwed to the wall and supportted by legs made of 2x4's, installation of these shipping crates turned nesting boxes took 15 minutes! The most time-consuming part was cutting the hole in the exterior wall.

In the image above, you can see the wood decoy eggs I used to train my hens to nest in the new nesting boxes.

The exterior hole for my coop was cut in four sections rather than one large hole, to help maintain the structural integrity of the wall and make the construction of secure doors a little easier:

Cutting the exterior wall to add reach through nesting boxes to my chicken coop

With a bit of sanding and paint on the newly cut edges, and fitted with doors and latches, the new reach-through nesting boxes were ready to open for business!

New nesting boxes installed in an old coop


Easy Nesting Box Maintenance

One of the most popular articles on this site is an account of how, as I was experimenting with ways to keep these nesting boxes clean, I began using astroturf liners as an alternative to straw bedding that typically ended up scattered all over the coop. The astroturf was a huge success and provides a soft, unscatterable, surface for hens to nest and lay eggs on. You can read more about how I purchase, install, and maintain my  turf nesting box liners.

simple maintenance for old chicken coops

Cost-Saving Alternative: Second Hand Cabinets

One economical option if you aren’t able to get your hands on a cheap prefab wood box is to check your local Habitat for Humanity Restore (a thrift-store style lumberyard and home improvement store) for second-hand cabinets. Most ReStores have a constant influx of cabinet donations from kitchen-remodel jobs, and this supply results in exceptionally affordable prices. You can pick up a set of kitchen cabinets for $10-$25, and install them against an exterior wall in your coop for cheap nesting box installation. With a hole cut behind the cabinets and a bit of creativity, you can even remove the cabinet doors, paint, and repurpose them as the exterior doors for your reach-through nesting box.

Creativity is the Limit

With a little creativity, you can add reach-through nesting boxes to your chicken coop in just a few hours. If you think creatively about the supplies you already have on hand you can even create this project without a significant cost.

As an example, below is a shot from my first chicken coop- which was made by enclosing a horse stall in chicken wire (a stall which, itself, had been made by partitioning off a section of a large barn overhang designed to dairy cattle). In this photo you can see agricultural creativity at work, this large cast-iron basin was actually an old urinal from a large public men’s restroom! The previous owner had converted this long, heavy basin to an automated waterer for cattle. With a door located behind the waterer (designed to allow the rancher to check water levels) it was the perfect spot to then convert to a reach through communal nesting box in my chicken’s coop.

communal style nesting box