For years my husband, Brad, and I idly dreamed about moving to the country. We wanted the space and the quiet for us, and our very active dogs. A year ago, we finally made it happen. We moved to a rather neglected, dilapidated 50-acre property and started the slow process of getting the house and land back into shape.
After a year of home renovations and tons of outdoor work (including tackling a field of thistles that were higher than our heads), we were ready to add some farm animals!
We decided to start with goats and chickens. We hoped the goats would help us mow and that the chickens might provide us with eggs. The property came with several outbuildings in various states of disrepair. Our challenge was to renovate one into a palace fit for our new furry and feathered friends.
Many farm properties will come with outbuildings. Renovating an existing building is (usually) faster and cheaper than building something from scratch. Depending on your township, you may need a permit to either build OR demolish a building, but not for renovating an existing building.
Our reno budget was super tight, so salvaging and reusing as much as possible was vital. Plus, reusing materials is awesome for the environment! In the current Covid-world, many basic building supplies are out of stock, or prices have skyrocketed. The less we needed to buy, the better.
We also needed to take into consideration the different needs of two very different species. We wanted to create a living space that would keep both the goats and chickens cosy, warm, safe, and allow us to separate them for feeding.
Supplies We Used for the Barn Makeover
- Rake and shovel for cleaning
- Basic tools; hammer, saw, level
- Variety of nails and screws
- Reclaimed wood; 2 x 4s and plywood, and purchased some new plywood
- Roofing material – we are trying out plastic panels for the first time.
Step 1. Clean the Old Barn
If you are going the same route as us and fixing up an existing building, the first step is to do a really thorough clean.
Unfortunately, it looked like the barns on our property had literally never been cleaned. The first step, for us, included digging down through about three feet of solidly packed manure. Yuck. The 120 sq foot barn took eight ATV trailer loads to empty.
Even if you’re lucky to be starting with less of a mess, step 1 will still be cleaning the barn/shelter/building. Particularly to prepare for new animals, you don’t want any old manure, rodent droppings, etc. The clean-up stage will also give you the chance to check for any hidden hazards like old nails, broken glass, etc.
If you are cleaning out old manure, relocate it somewhere so your future gardens can benefit!
The clean-out was simple; we shoveled out the old manure (you can use a pitchfork/hay fork too, if it contains lots of straw) until we were down to the earth floor. I then raked the floor a few times to help level some low spots. There was one damp corner. Clearly, the rain had been getting in at the roof. I spread some shavings to help dry this area out.
Step 2. Repair as Needed
Chances are, any existing building will need some repairs. Once you have a clean slate, you can go through and find any weak spots in the frame, any holes, etc.
We live where there is a serious winter, so we need a building to be snug and cozy. Wherever you are, you need to prevent drafts to keep your animals safe and healthy.
Chickens need a draft-free area; they can be susceptible to getting chilled. They also need ventilation to cut down on disease and to help with the smell. Even a few chickens create a significant mess!
They essentially eat constantly, meaning they also poop constantly. When you are repairing any holes in your walls, remember to plan for some sort of ventilation.
We opted to create a solid-draft free area, but then leave the top of the wall open approximately 6 inches along the roof on one side to provide fresh air flow. This is what led to our plan to create a hayloft, so the end design was a snug building that allowed fresh air without impacting the overall temperature.
Step 3. Design Your Interior Space
If you’re planning to keep more than one type of animal, you may want to design your barn to create separate spaces.
With a plan for both goats and chickens, we decided to build a chicken coop on one side of the barn. Although they get along fine and can safely be together, they do have different nutritional needs. By having two spaces, we could control their food overnight, allowing them to graze together during the day.
When planning for chickens, remember to allocate space for nesting boxes (the recommendation is one box per four chickens) and plenty of room for roosting. If you live in a cold climate, the advice is to build roosting spots that are wider than your chicken’s feet.
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Wide roosting perches mean they can comfortably settle and then have all of their toes tucked under them. If they are grasping around something smaller, their toes will be exposed and susceptible to frostbite.
For goats, you need to plan space for feeding hay, either in a trough or a hay bag, somewhere to hang their water, a spot for a salt lick, a dish for their minerals (TractorSupply has a great range of goat minerals), and a dish for their pellets and feed.
- Model number: Evolved Habitats 94010 Billy Goat Minera
- Country of Origin: United States
- No batteries required
- Brand name: The Evolved Company
I primarily hand-feed the goats their pellets to encourage bonding, then leave hay for them to eat around the clock (which they do!).
- Read more: Expert Advice for Feeding Hobby Farm Animals from celebrity veterinarian Dr. Pol.
Step 4. Focus on the Roof
I have yet to get up onto any farm building and NOT find something wrong with the roof. A secure roof is crucial both to keep your animals warm and your interior dry. Dry is essential, both for the comfort of your furry farm friends and for keeping hay and feed dry and mold-free.
Before you brave actually getting ON the roof, make sure it is safe. A quick visual inspection of our barn roof, combined with our experience with other buildings on the property, convinced us to strengthen the roof before we climbed onto it. We decided to build a simple frame from floor to ceiling to provide some extra support.
We combined this frame with our plan to create two separate areas.
Our goal was to build a wall to delineate the chicken coop area, so the roof support frame was also the basis for the wall. Over the summer, we had been tearing down the old fencing and stacking all the boards for future projects. We used some of these reclaimed 2x4s for the wall frame.
The frame went across the floor, up the back wall and front wall beside the door, and then had two posts straight from the floor to the roof. This structure gave us a total of 4 support beams for the roof. We made the top of the wall frame five feet high; this would eventually be the height of the hayloft.
In our renos on other buildings, we have found a myriad of roof-repair methods that the previous occupants used.
We have unearthed multiple layers of shingles; we have discovered layers of plastic sheeting; we found one roof with a tarp stretched over it then shingles nailed on top….fascinating! In an unprecedented event on this farm, this roof was in better shape than we anticipated.
There appeared to be just one layer of shingles over plywood, and most of the shingles were in good condition. There were a few rotted spots, but the biggest problem was in the actual construction.
For some unknown reason, the walls were not flush with the roof. There was about a ½ inch gap between the wall and the roof around most of the building. This gap was definitely where water had been getting in, creating the wet area I found when cleaning the barn.
We had salvaged some plastic roof panels from a friend’s shed demolition. These were very pliable, and we were able to cover the roof and then bend the ends over the side of the wall to create a waterproof, airtight barrier over the gap. We affixed the panels to the roof using 2.5” roofing screws.
Step 5. Acquiring the Goats
It would have made perfect sense to completely finish the barn, then welcome our new friends. However, that is not exactly how it went. We acquired the goats once the barn was clean and secure. This allowed them to oversee the construction AND motivated Brad and me to get the reno finished.
Years ago, before we were married and long before we started to dream of a farm, we were entranced by a video of a fainting (myotonic) goat on a toy slide.
The video goes precisely how you would expect, goat climbs up the stairs, goat begins to slide down the slide, goat faints, and slides down the remainder of the slide on its side. HILARIOUS. I was hooked.
Myotonics are actually an excellent fit for this area, and for first-time goat owners. They are small, hardy, and healthy. They are easy keepers and will thrive on a variety of different food options. They LOVE tall grasses, of which we have an abundance.
I arranged to buy two wethers (castrated males) from a local breeder and Brad went to pick them up. He called me from the road on the way home, and all I could hear was goats screaming at the top of their lungs. “WHAT? YOU HAVE THE GOATS? HAVE A FUN DRIVE HOME!” Honestly, that man is a saint.
Clive and Fitzgerald took a bit to warm up to us, but are now both quite affectionate. When they see me in the yard they will call me over. They love being scratched and petted. They are absolutely charming.
Step 6. Building the Hayloft
With a finished roof and the confidence that the inside was going to stay dry, it was time to finish the interior. We decided to build a hayloft above the chicken coop area. A loft would give us a dry and convenient storage space over winter, and the hay would also contribute to insulation.
Don’t miss these articles!
- 17 Fun Facts About Goats (including whether goats get fleas or not, whether they can swim, and whether they have accents!)
- 5 Signs of Hoof Rot and How to Treat It
- How to Tell If a Goat is Pregnant
- 100+ Cute Goat Names
The loft was a straightforward construction. We decided to use new plywood, rather than salvaged, to ensure it could hold the coming weight of hay bales. First, we finished off the wall that would enclose the chicken coop, as this would be the outside of the hayloft.
We had salvaged some plywood from another (even more) dilapidated shed that we will eventually just demolish.
We used the salvaged wood to make a solid wall from the back of the shed to the door into the chicken coop, about two feet high. We wanted the bottom to be solid to let both groups of animals feel safe and secure when confined and to try to minimize spillover of mess and bedding from side-to-side.
We nailed the salvaged plywood to the wall frame, ensuring there were no sharp corners or edges. The remainder of the wall was chicken wire, up to the level of the planned hayloft.
We simply stapled the chicken wire to the frame of the wall. This allowed for airflow and ventilation, even when the chickens are locked in their coop.
We built a door to the chicken coop out of more of the reclaimed 2x4s and hinged it to the wall. The walls of the barn have a bit of a lean to them, so it took some measuring and fiddling to create a door that would fit more or less flush in the odd space.
To close the coop we nailed a piece of wood to the frame alongside the outer wall; we can swing this in front of the door to keep it closed.
With the wall complete, it was very simple to create a space for the loft. We nailed the plywood sheets to the top of the chicken coop wall and to 2x4s on the interior barn wall.
We had decided on five feet high when we built the wall frame. Tall enough to give the chickens lots of space and roosting options, but not so tall that I couldn’t reach up and get what I needed.
We figure we will need 40 bales of hay to get us through the winter. I have 20 stored in a shed, and the remaining 20 bales fit perfectly in the hayloft, still leaving room for their tubs of kibbles.
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Looking at a full hayloft is a fantastic feeling. I love the peace of mind of having (hopefully) enough food and bedding for the winter. The stacks of bales also provide significant insulation.
Step 7. Nesting Boxes and Roosts
Our first acquisition of chickens was supposed to be four hens, two Alsteirers and two Lavender Orpingtons. These are both breeds that are supposed to be mild-mannered and hardy, perfect beginner chickens!
Four chickens would mean one nesting box would be sufficient, but we planned to add additional chickens in the future. We decided to build four in a row, with roosting bars out front. It would be easy to add another four on top if we decided to get more chickens.
When I went to the chicken breeder to collect my four hens, I ended up with seven….whoops! The eccentric, but very friendly and knowledgeable, breeder was enthusiastic about showing me all of his birds.
He was talking a mile-a-minute and said something about not having two Alsteirer hens for me so he would give me one and then two Orpington pullets.
Then somehow I ended up with an additional two Orpington chicks. I left the breeder with one Alsteirer hen, two Lavender Orpington hens, two pullets, and two chicks.
The nesting box design was about as simple as you can get. We used more reclaimed plywood to make a frame for a line of boxes. The recommended size for a nesting box is 12 inches square.
We used more reclaimed plywood to split the long frame into four equal 12” boxes. We nailed this to 2x4s that were attached to the interior wall to be able to anchor the nesting boxes.
We wanted to provide a few different options for roosts. We heeded the advice to have roosting options wider than chicken feet, for cold weather roosting, and used more of our seemingly endless reclaimed 2x4s to build a roost running the length of the coop.
We also added some dowling that we had leftover from another project, giving the chickens different options at different heights. We wanted to ensure our surprise chicks and pullets had plenty of options in addition to the adult hens.
Step 8. Creating a Safe Outdoor Area
We ran wire fencing along the inside of the wooden fence to make it chicken and goat proof.
We then ran more of the reclaimed 2x4s along the bottom to prevent predators from digging under, or chickens from escaping. We lock the animals up in the barn every night, but we wanted them to be able to go outside during the day if they choose to.
I am sitting in my office as I write this, and I just now looked out my window and could see three chickens grazing beside two goats.
I am so pleased we decided to renovate one of the ramshackle barns into a safe and comfortable area for some new farm friends. We have been on the farm for a year now, and the dogs and I have been enjoying all our space.
My husband and I enjoy the quiet and lack of neighbors. There is something about adding some farm animals that really makes this place feel like a “true” farm.
I hope you enjoyed this story + semi-tutorial and that you see some promise in your own sheds and outbuildings! So many farms hit the real estate market with a handful of ramshackle buildings. I usually see these get promptly torn down, but often, with a bit of work and love, they can become great places.
I would love to hear your comments and questions. If you enjoyed this, please share it!