How to Build Chicken Coops: Adapting and Converting

Have an existing structure that you think would make a good chicken coop? Here are some tips for adapting and converting chicken coops.

Chicken Coop Shed

With the right adjustments, a simple garden shed can become a chicken coop.

Photo by Samantha and Daniel Johnson

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Whether your chickens roam free on acres of rolling farmland or kick up dust in your backyard, they are going to need a place to rest sooner or later. Farmers and poultry enthusiasts Samantha and Daniel Johnston will help you obtain the right knowledge and know-how to finally build and prepare a home for your birds in How to Build Chicken Coops (Voyageur Press, 2015). This excerpt, from Chapter 6, “Adapting and Converting Chicken Coops,” will arm you with the information you need to renovate or convert an existing structure into a chicken coop for your flock.

Buy this book from the Capper’s Farmer store: How to Build Chicken Coops.

So you have a plan for a chicken coop, but what if the coop as shown doesn’t quite meet your needs? Maybe your coop needs to be a bit larger—large enough to house, say, ten birds. Or maybe you need a coop that is easily portable or one that offers a larger run. In this chapter, we’ll show you how to adapt the basic coop plan to suit your needs. We’ll also introduce you to ways that you can convert existing structures into chicken coops, potentially saving time and money.

Adapting the Basic Plan to Create A Larger Chicken Coop

You may have aspirations of keeping a larger number of chickens than the coop in How to Build Chicken Coops is designed for. If this is the case, you might want to be able to construct a larger coop, without creating a design totally from scratch. What can be done? First off, you could think about lengthening the side panels. Instead of using 96-inch (8-foot) 2 x 4s for the side panels, consider extending them another 29-1/4 inches using 11-foot 2 x 4s cut to 125-1/4 inches. This will give you enough length to add an additional section to the run. You’ll also need one additional rafter, longer (125-1/4 inches) 2 x 12s for the roof, and additional shingles. If you’d like to make the coop area larger, don’t worry—it can be lengthened as well. Increasing the coop’s interior length from 30-3/8 inches to 44-5/8 inches will give you enough room for an additional nest box, not to mention more elbow room (or maybe it’s wing room?) for more chickens. You could even choose to go longer—all the way to the next 2 x 4 stud. Of course you’ll also need to lengthen the cleanout and nest box doors, as well as the coop’s floor, but these modifications are relatively straightforward and can actually make for a fun challenge. The advantage to lengthening these areas— rather than making them wider—is that all of the rafter, door, and removable coop wall measurements remain intact and don’t have to be reconfigured.

Adapting the Basic Plan for Winter

Have you ever heard anyone who keeps livestock say, “I just love winter, it’s my favorite season”? Chances are, the answer is no. Winter can be a challenge for chicken keepers who live in cold areas. If you live in a particularly cold region with hard winters, you’re in great shape, because this coop has already been designed with cold weather in mind. There is excellent ventilation without letting in drafts, while the thick 2 x 10s and 2 x 12s that are used on the walls and roof offer fine insulation properties. Nevertheless, there are a few more things you can do to make your coop better equipped to handle cold weather.

Winterization Panels
One thing to do is to create removable winterization panels—they’re fairly easy to make and can go a long way toward keeping your chickens warm all winter. You can build winterization panels out of Plexiglas (which is a flexible, clear, durable plastic) or wood. Both Plexiglas and wood winterization panels can be built to slide into place on any areas that are normally covered with hardware cloth and therefore open to the air. You can protect open areas of both the coop and the run to provide insulation from the cold without sacrificing the beauty of your structure. In general, try to use Plexiglas panels on the sides of your coop where the sun is likely to shine; this will depend on trees and other objects near your coop, but it’s likely you’ll want to install Plexiglas on the southern side of your coop. Then use your sturdier wooden winterization panels to provide protection against the direction of the prevailing winter winds.

Heated Water

If you’ve raised any kind of animal before, you are aware that providing water during winter can be a challenge. If your chickens cannot access their water, you’re in trouble. If the temperatures consistently drop below freezing, you could consider an electric-heated water pan, which can keep your chickens' water from freezing even in very cold conditions. You’ll need an electrical source, of course, as described earlier. Taking extra time to make your coop warm and protected from winter weather is always a good plan.

Adapting the Basic Plan to Create a Portable Chicken Coop

You may like the idea of a coop that is semiportable. To be sure, a chicken coop of any variety (except perhaps a chicken tractor) isn’t something you’re going to want to move around every day. But it isn’t a bad idea to move your coop throughout the year to take advantage of new grass or to choose a better location. Let’s look at a couple of ways you could adapt the basic coop plan to make it more easily moveable.

If you want your coop to be portable, you’ll need to make it lighter. One way to decrease the weight of your coop is to side the exterior walls with plywood siding such as T1-11 (sometimes mistakenly called bead board) instead of shingles. Doing this saves a lot of weight because you can eliminate the heavy 2 x 10s that make up the coop walls. T1-11 is a flimsier product, however, so you may need to consider incorporating additional 2 x 4 studs to the back and side panels to help strengthen the T1-11 and give it something more to hold on to. For instance, an additional 59-3/4-inch 2 x 4 could be added vertically to the center of the back panel to provide additional strength. Likewise, additional 30-3/8-inch 2 x 4s could be added horizontally to the side panel areas.

T1-11 comes in 4 x 8-foot sheets, so by purchasing just three sheets you should have more than enough material to cover the back wall, side walls, and removable front wall of your coop.

You could even go as far as eliminating siding altogether on the portions of the side panel walls beneath the coop and instead opting to close these off with hardware cloth.

It’s possible to make the roof lighter (although perhaps not quite as cute) as well. The six cedar 2 x 12s that make up the base of the roof could be replaced with 3/4-inch plywood and then covered over with ordinary roofing shingles, or even a metal roof attached with screws.

Of course, even with these modifications, your coop is still going to be rather heavy. Therefore, a set of wheels will go a long way to making your modified coop truly portable.

You don’t want to have your coop raised up on wheels like a cart, since this would give predators easy access. Instead (as shown in the photo), consider installing a pair of wheels on just one end of the coop by taking those base 96-inch 2 x 4s on the side panels and extending them another 12 inches to 108 inches. Your wheels can be attached to these extensions, and corner braces can be made out of additional 2 x 4s. By using this method, the wheels will stick flat out the back, letting the coop stay flush on the ground. The wheels only come into play when it’s time to move the coop—and then they act like wheelbarrow wheels. The idea is that you raise up the end of the coop opposite the wheels (perhaps by installing handles or with the help of a machine) and let the wheels carry most of the load. For this reason, you’ll want to install the pair of wheels under the coop end of your structure.

Remember, these are guidelines, and your actual modification decisions will depend on the materials that are available to you—and your skill level.

Adapting the Basic Plan to Create A Divided Chicken Coop And/or Brooding Area

You may find it useful at times to be able to divide your coop into two areas. Luckily, modifications can be made to the design in Chapter 5 that allow for this.

While you can always create your own designs and ideas, one thought for dividing this design is to isolate the area directly under the coop and turn it into a divided area. One way to accomplish this is to simply use chicken wire or hardware cloth to separate the area under the coop from the rest of the run (this way the wire is semiremovable and will allow you access when needed). An outdoor access door for the chickens could be either framed out with 2 x 4s, or even installed on the back wall of the coop by cutting through the 2 x 10s.

Converting Other Structures

Building a coop from scratch is a rewarding experience, but it does require an investment of time and energy. You can shave some time off of your coop project by renovating an existing structure. Maybe you have an old playhouse that is no longer being used for childhood tea parties and you’d like to give the structure a second life as a coop. Or maybe you have a garden shed with a lot of life left in it, or a doghouse with definite coop potential.

In the following pages, we’ll explore options for renovating and converting existing structures and turning them into chicken-friendly habitats. We’ll discuss necessary considerations, benefits, drawbacks, and additional info that will help you decide whether to build brand-new or opt to convert an existing structure into the coop of your dreams.

But don’t limit yourself to the ideas shown on the following pages. Opportunities abound when it comes to repurposing coops. If you need more ideas than we’ve outlined here, simply go online and type “converting structures into chicken coops” into a search engine. Or stop by Pinterest to view an innumerable assortment of impressively clever suggestions for repurposing buildings into chicken coops. You’ll undoubtedly find inspiration to convert a chicken coop of your own.

Advantages of Conversion

Renovation can be an effective way to build a chicken coop without cost playing a major role. Many farms have outbuildings that could be converted into delightful coops. Another reason to convert an existing building into a chicken coop is that it can be much more fun! Being faced with many different layout styles is sometimes daunting, so renovation can be a friendly approach to creating a coop. It is particularly appealing for those who might not be as familiar with construction.

Choosing what to convert is one of the hardest challenges, but you might have several options already. Former doghouses, rabbit hutches, children’s playhouses, and storage sheds are just some of the buildings you can repurpose into lovely chicken coops. Do you have a couple of empty box stalls that aren’t housing horses? Convert them into splendid large-space chicken coops.

The ability to recycle is another reason to update an older structure. Instead of just letting unused outbuildings be wasted, repurpose them into something you’ll need every day.

When you have a building that could stand to be repurposed, you might be more open to getting creative and taking a less standard method with your chicken coop. The personalization process can involve the entire family. Choosing a paint color and doing the actual painting is something even younger family members might be willing to assist with. You won’t have to purchase as many materials as you would starting from scratch, so you’ll be able to spend more time beautifying the coop. Remember, safety is the number one concern when renovating a coop, so be sure that you keep this in mind while working.

Disadvantages of Conversion

What if you have your heart set on a 6 x 10-foot chicken coop and the shed that you’d like to renovate is only 4 x 8? The lack of the ability to customize your coop can be a disadvantage of coop conversion, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. It’s wise to look at your existing structure as a baseline, but not necessarily the final blueprint of your renovated coop.

Possible Buildings to Convert

Converting Sheds Into Chicken Coops

If you live on a farm, there’s a good chance that your property has a number of small outbuildings that are perfect for being converted into chicken coops. It often seems like the farmers of the olden days couldn’t get along without one or two small sheds, perfect for storing miscellaneous equipment and whatnot. And even if you don’t live on a farm, you might still have a shed out in the corner of your yard, harboring some of Dad’s less frequently used tools or a collection of rusting garden supplies. If you have the good fortune to possess such a shed, and if it’s present purpose is indeed to house various objects and articles for infrequent use, then by all means bid farewell to your hodgepodge shed and say hello to your new chicken coop.

The main thing to consider when converting a shed into a chicken coop is that many sheds lack any form of ventilation, having been built for the sole purpose of storing tools, equipment, and other objects that don’t require a constant supply of fresh air. Therefore, some adaptations you could think about would be cutting big windows in the sides of the shed to supply much-needed ventilation and light. In some cases, this may be as easy as cutting openings into the walls and installing the necessary components, although in other instances, it may require major structural changes to the shed that should only be undertaken by a professional carpenter.

One great advantage to adapting a shed is the extra size you have to work with. If you were to convert an entire basic 8 x 10-foot shed into a coop (and have an outdoor run attached separately), it could easily house as many as twenty chickens. Or you could just wall off the back end of the shed for use as the coop and possibly remove siding up front to create a built-in run. There will be plenty of room to stagger your roosts in the corners, as well as no lack of space for nest boxes and other amenities.

Converting Barns Into Chicken Coops

Although a big old barn for livestock isn’t quite what people tend to picture when thinking of a place to keep chickens, there can be no denying that a traditional livestock barn is a wonderful option for protecting your poultry. While it may not be as picturesque and quaint as a smaller, more typical chicken coop, a barn offers several major advantages that smaller buildings can’t provide. For example, you can easily convert a small portion of a barn into a top-notch chicken coop while still retaining the vast majority of the barn for other purposes, a major advantage if you don’t have room for a standalone chicken coop or if your farming endeavors extends to livestock other than chickens. Also, barns typically have electricity installed for the purpose of running lights and heaters, so powering the chicken coop portion of your barn will not be an issue—yippee!

However, like sheds, barns often require a bit of work in the ventilation department. For while barns do have windows, the amount of air movement in the portion of the barn where your coop is located might not offer enough fresh air for a flock of chickens. Adding windows or vents could be a challenge, so in the case of a barn—which is most likely already equipped with general ventilation— some well-placed electric fans to help circulate fresh air may be all you need to keep your chickens happy and healthy. You might need a chickensized door to allow them to access the outdoors and perhaps a run attached to the outside wall of the barn.

Converting Children’s Playhouses Into Chicken Coops

You may have many fond memories of pleasant afternoons spent playing with stuffed animals and board games in the playhouse your dad built for you, but if the playhouse isn’t getting as much use as it did in its heyday, perhaps the time has come to give it a new lease on life by converting it into a chicken coop. In general, playhouses are the perfect size to be adapted into chicken coops, and in some cases they already have electricity installed. They also might already have good ventilation, or need to make adjustments in this department. There will probably already be enough windows—they’ll just need hardware cloth installed to protect against predators. But all in all you probably won’t have to do much to prepare your playhouse for chickens. Really, outside of installing nest boxes, roosts, and such, many playhouses barely need any converting at all.

Converting Lean-Tos Into Chicken Coops

Like sheds and barns, lean-tos can easily be adapted into exceptional chicken coops, assuming that they aren’t being used for anything else. Perhaps you have a lean-to that was once used for storing wood, back before your house was heated with gas or electricity instead of a wood-burning furnace. If your lean-to is just sitting there gathering dust and seemingly begging to be put back into good use, you may have found yourself the foundation for your new chicken coop.

The open side of a lean-to can make a great opportunity for constructing an attached run. Of course, this also means that you’ll have to put up an additional wall to give your chickens protection from the elements as needed, but this shouldn’t prove too much of an issue.

As is becoming a bit of a theme here, your primary concern is to make sure that your lean-to offers good ventilation. Depending on how you construct your coop, you may not have to add much in the way of windows and/or vents. However, if you deem it necessary to add additional ventilation, the simplistic design of lean-tos should allow you to easily cut sizeable openings in the walls, in which screened windows or vents can be installed.

Converting Doghouses Into Chicken Coops

You know that doghouse out in your yard—the one being engulfed by tall grass and weeds? The one you built when Fido was a puppy—back before he started sleeping in your bed at night? Even if it was never used for its intended purpose of housing your canine companion, a good-sized doghouse can easily be adapted into top-notch living quarters for your chickens.

Of course, unless your doghouse was built for a great dane or a Mastiff—or unless you intended to spoil Fido with a doghouse of epic proportions—chances are your doghouse isn’t very big. Therefore, you may be limited in the number of chickens you can keep in a coop converted from a doghouse. If you weren’t intending to keep more than two or three, this won’t be a problem— your coop will be just the right size. But if your chicken-raising dreams involve a larger flock, you might be better off building a new, large coop rather than trying to adapt a doghouse to suit your needs.

As most doghouses rarely (if ever!) have windows or vents, you’ll need to add some to provide your chickens with proper ventilation. A good place to do this is in the gables at each end of the doghouse, assuming it has a gable roof.

Want to learn more about building chicken coops? Read What to Consider Before Building a Chicken Coop for more information to prepare you for building your own chicken coop.


This excerpt has been republished with permission from How to Build Chicken Coops, by Samantha and Daniel Johnson and published by Voyageur Press, 2015. Buy this book from the Capper’s Farmer store: How to Build Chicken Coops.