School is only boring if you make it that way. There are practical life lessons all around your home that won’t feel like “school” at all. Here are a few projects to do with your kids that are fun and teach important subjects.
1. Science – Start a Garden
Doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t even have to be outside. Gardening is full of science lessons, including chemistry, biology, measurements, and more. And you can eat the results!
Walking through the chicken life cycle, including how an egg gestates and hatches, is one of the most fascinating and educational experiences in life. Ideally, I would recommend you buy an incubator and hatch some eggs yourself.
Don’t be scared! You can get everything online and you don’t have to keep the chicks once they hatch. Trust me, you have someone like me near you who loves chickens and will take them off your hands. Just put out a Facebook post and watch the chicken people emerge.
Scholastic has some cool chicken-hatching lesson plans to get you started.
This is an oldy-but-goodie. Building even the simplest bird house requires measuring, calculating material, volume, estimation, even calculating the size of the hole in the front. Math, math, math that is fun, fun, fun.
And there is nothing more fulfilling for anyone than building something with your own hands. It’s what HomeDabbler is dedicated to.
While it’s amazing to have a small egg-producing flock in your backyard, there are several very natural reasons why chickens (hens) stop laying eggs, at least for a while.
The good news is that most times, they start laying again soon. Here are the most common causes.
1. Weather Extremes
I live in North Florida where the summers are brutal. Every August my hens stop laying eggs. The heat is just too much and most of their energy goes to surviving it. Same with cold. If your flock slows or stops laying, check the recent weather.
Don’t worry, this usually works itself out when the weather moderates.
2. Shorter Daylight Hours
This is related to weather. On short winter days, chickens will slow or stop laying. Adding a light to their coop and keeping it lit a couple hours in the evening can help with egg production.
Most chickens molt once a year. It’s creepy to watch but perfectly natural. However, hens will not lay during a molt. Their body needs all the nutrients it can get to generate new feathers.
If your birds have had a recent scare or attack—a hawk is menacing them or a raccoon killed one of them—they will typically stop laying for a while. Again, they usually pick back up a few days after the incident.
Sick hens won’t lay. Most disease in a small backyard flock can be prevented by purchasing vaccinated chicks from a reputable supplier (Murray McMurray is our favorite), giving them quality food and clean water, and providing plenty of open space.
Treat the disease and she may start laying again. I say “may” because chickens are pretty fragile when it comes to sickness. Many times they simply don’t recover. Doesn’t mean they won’t though. Fingers crossed.
This is the only one you can’t fix. A hen’s prime time for laying are her second and third years. After that, her eggs will get progressively smaller until she stops laying altogether.
Some folks butcher their hens after they stop laying, but we don’t. Our girls are free to convalesce into their twilight years.
Christmas lights are the best, but they can be dangerous to hang up. Whether you prefer understated and sophisticated (boring) or full-on Clark Griswold, nobody wants you spoiling the season by getting hurt.
1. Use big honking extension cords
Don’t use crappy extension cords. And yes, I know you have some in your garage or closet. Those thin, sorry little ones you got at the dollar store last year. Get rid of those.
Rule of thumb: The thicker the extension cord, the better. For those of you who know electrical lingo, 14 gauge is as thin as you want to go, 12 gauge is ideal. Your house wiring is likely 12 gauge.
2. Install lights only where they belong
There are lights made for interior. There are lights made for exterior. There are also interior and exterior. Bottom line, don’t use interior lights outside. It’s an electrical hazard. You can use exterior inside, however.
Have you ever been in the bathroom running a space heater and the lights go out? Pressure washing your house and the plugs in your garage go dead? Probably your GFI.
A ground fault interrupter (GFI), sometimes called a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), is a super sensitive electrical circuit in your home that is connected to any location that has a water source – kitchen, bathrooms, outside plugs, etc.
It’s obviously bad if an electrical plug gets wet, especially if you are holding a hair dryer when it does. The GFI is there to protect you. If it gets even the tiniest power surge, it shuts of the whole circuit immediately.
What does a GFI plug look like?
A GFI plug that has two buttons in the middle of it. One is labeled “TEST” and the other “RESET.” If your GFI cuts the circuit, press the RESET button and the power should come back on.
I don’t see a GFI in my bathroom. Where is it?
If you have more than one bathroom, it is possible to have a GFI plug in one and not the other. That is because both bathrooms are on the same circuit and you should only have one GFI per circuit, not per bathroom. Same for exterior plugs. They are usually all on the same circuit with the GFI receptacle in the garage or on the porch.
I pushed RESET and nothing happened. Now what?
Many houses have a GFI in the breaker box. If your RESET button doesn’t turn the lights back on, try that.
If the circuit doesn’t recharge after that, something is wrong. Call an electrician.
Oh, and if you own an older home without a GFI, get an electrician there now to install one.
Also, here’s a video of me talking about GFIs on TV. 🙂
We’re all familiar with a snake shedding its skin. Chickens do something similar about once a year. It’s called molting.
What does molting look like?
Molt is when a chicken renews its feathers. The old ones fall out and are replaced with shiny new ones. It can be disconcerting the first time you see it. You will probably think the bird is sick. They certainly look pitiful during the process. But fear not, it is totally natural and will result in a beautiful new coat for your chicken.
Hens and roosters molt. Hens will also stop laying eggs during their molting period.
When do chickens molt?
Molting generally happens in fall or winter, when the days shorten. You’ll notice tufts of feathers missing and others barely hanging on. The chicken may also seem lethargic and irritable during the molt. Or it may act normally. Each one is different.
How long does it last?
About two weeks, give or take.
What do I do?
It takes a lot of energy for your chickens to molt. Feathers are mostly protein, so they will need to eat a lot. Make sure they have all the quality food they want. And mostly just give them space. No handling or stress. Leave them be and let the process take its course.
You’ll be surprised at how wonderful they look when they are done.
Posted at 8:00 am by HomeDabbler, on September 20, 2019
Roosters are gorgeous and majestic, the iconic poultry specimen. That said, I do not have them in my flock and haven’t had for many years.
Most roosters are extremely aggressive once they reach sexual maturity (about six months old). After that, they are prone to attack you or your children.
Don’t roosters protect the flock?
Contrary to the idea of the noble rooster protecting his flock, more often than not our roosters spent more time harassing the hens.
If you get a serious predator like a raccoon or fox, even the burliest rooster will be no match, especially at night when these varmints attack.
Ready for a 24-hour serenade?
And the crowing. Roosters do not just scream at day break. They crow around the clock, disturbing you and your neighbors.
But what about eggs?
The idea is that, without a rooster, your hens will not make eggs. Not true. The female of almost every species makes eggs no matter what. If you have no roosters, you will have no fertilized eggs, so no baby chicks.
Chicken. Wire. Wire for enclosing chickens. What could go wrong?
A lot. Chicken wire, also called poultry netting, is a lot like duct tape. Used for everything but good for nothing.
You’ve seen it, the cute honey-comb pattern wrapped around rustic coops, the very model of American farm yard-ery. The only problem is that chicken wire, while visually pleasing, doesn’t do its job, at least not long term.
The primary reason for enclosing your chickens in their own space – a coop, run, or nursery – is to keep them safe. Chicken wire is made of, well, wire. However, the wire is very thin. It is galvanized to withstand the elements, but will not over the long haul.
Eventually, your chicken wire will rust and corrode. Because it is so thin, predators like raccoons can (and will) break it. And they don’t need much space to get in. A raccoon or fox can slink through a hole the size of a grape fruit.
These predators play for keeps. I lost my entire flock of 12 chickens in one night when two coons broke in.
There is a better way
There are three better options to chicken wire, based on application.
1. 2″ x 4″ weld wire
Weld wire is also made of galvanized wire, but it is much thicker than chicken wire and will last longer.
While I do not recommend using weld wire for high-security areas like your run, it is fine for a broody breaker or yard fence.
2. “Rabbit wire”
Love this stuff, especially the kind coated with PVC. Rabbit wire is the common name for 1″ weld wire (it is commonly used for rabbit hutches).
It is expensive, so use it sparingly. You would not use it to cover an entire run (you could, but you better have serious budget), but it is great for nurseries. The small spaces make it impossible for even the tiniest chick or slither-i-est rat snake to pass through.
3. The ultimate: chain link
Lasts for ages. Virtually unbreakable. Chain link is the ultimate poultry protection device.
It is also expensive but you will not have to replace it for years and years and years. No predator (save a bear, maybe) can penetrate it. I use chain link to cover my run – top, sides, and along the ground – and haven’t lost a chicken to a predator since.
You won’t regret it
I used chicken wire for way too long and lost many birds along the way. If there is one tip that I wish someone had shared with me when I was a new chicken raiser, it would be this one.
Dump the chicken wire and use something actually made for chickens.
The idea is that not only should you expect failure in business, you should actively seek it as a necessary step toward your big success. Repeated failure is a glamorous badge of honor.
What a dangerous idea.
Fail fast + fail often = failing strategy
Fail fast, fail often may work for breezy Silicon Valley tech startups full of 20-year-olds with rivers of venture capital to burn, but that is not how everyday businesses operate. For them, one big failure is usually all they can afford.
Most businesses close within their first five years. Most of those failures don’t mean just coming back Monday, playing a game of Foosball, and finding something else to fail at. Those failures mean bills don’t get paid, savings get lost, and families in financial and emotional crisis.
It took me more than five years and much pain to dig out of my first failure. It’s true, you do learn from failure. I learned volumes (that I share on this blog). What I learned helped me be successful in my second business, which I ran profitably for 10 years.
But please listen to me, failure is not a game and certainly not something to be sought. Don’t glamorize it.
When does this post get happy?
Now. Just because you may fail does not mean you should not start your business. As mentioned above, I started another business after my first failure and it was a success. It was profitable within the first year and grew for 10 years, when I closed it on my own terms.
My second business was successful because I learned from my first failure. That said, I could have learned those lessons other, less painful and expensive ways. Here are a few.
Ways to grow a business other than failure
Read, read, read. And listen. There has never been a better time to learn the art and science of entrepreneurship. There are thousands of books, blogs, podcasts, and websites (including this one) to help you avoid mistakes and failures.
Also, take time to listen to seasoned entrepreneurs. We love to share our wisdom with others.
For instance, I probably should not have bought my first business. From a financial perspective, the deal was too risky. People tried to tell me that, including the lawyer who brokered the deal. But I wouldn’t listen. I was going to beat the odds. Just like in Vegas, the odds beat me.
Doing your homework before starting a business can save you years of time (and tons of money) trying to learn these lessons on your own. In fact, here is an article from Forbes to get you started.
Good blog: Lesseverything.com (Less is a software development firm, but the content is relevant to all entrepreneurs).
Maybe start your business as a side hustle first. I understand the romance of jumping off the cliff and starting a business with no parachute, you against the world. I’ve done it. But it is largely a myth.
It is perfectly fine (and many times, much more successful), to start your idea as a nights-and-weekends thing first. Keep your day job for now, pay your bills, and see if you actually like running a business. Many folks find out that they don’t. At least you will know before going all in.
If your enterprise starts to grow and you like being an entrepreneur, find the right time and go for it.
I am an entrepreneur and always will be. I will always have business ideas and want to pursue them. If you are like that, don’t be afraid of it. There are few things more rewarding than business ownership. Your time will come.
But don’t buy in to the hype of the risk-it-all, devil-may-care entrepreneur. You’ll go broke and may never come back. The real entrepreneurs in my life are some of the most careful people I know.
They are careful because they hate to fail. And so should you.
Posted at 10:19 am by HomeDabbler, on September 7, 2019
Live in your home long enough and you will have to deal with wood rot.
I’m sure they will figure out how to make houses from completely synthetic materials one day, but until then wood rot will continue to me a major home maintenance issue.
There are three spots around you home that are especially prone to wood rot, the three most common that I dealt with in my home repair business. You can prevent them though.
Exterior Door Frames
Your exterior door frames are likely made of wood. Really cheap wood. You probably also have a concrete pad or a wooden deck that leads to your door. When it rains, water splashes onto the door frame, especially the bottom 12 inches, under the first hinge.
This kind of rot can sneak up on you because the frame is painted. The paint gives the appearance that the frame is solid when it is not.
Find your most exposed door. If you have a garage, this is usually the pedestrian door on the side. Crouch down and push with your index finger where the door from meets the threshold (the horizontal metal piece that you walk over to go through the door). If it is soft or your finger pushes through, you have rot.
Here’s what it looks like.
How do I fix it?
Once the rot starts, it is a done deal. You must have the rotten spots repaired. A skilled carpenter can do this, but it is delicate surgery. You are likely to end up with clunky patches at the bottom of your door frames.
You may have to replace the whole door. If you do, I recommend spending the extra money on doors with composite frames. Solve the problem long term.
How do I prevent it?
There are a few ways to mitigate and prevent this. First, make sure the eave over the door is guttered. All that roof water splashing on the door will surely rot it. Also make sure the frames are completely caulked, every crack, and painted at least every other year.
When I say horizontal trim, I mean any piece of trim that sticks out perpendicular from the wall. This is usually an exterior window sill.
These pieces essentially become a shelf for water to sit on. When (not if) the caulk fails between the trim and the window, water can leak in and rot the trim.
Looks like this.
How do I fix it?
Remove and replace the rotten material. I recommend that when you (or your carpenter) make this repair that you go back with either pressure treated lumber or a non-wood product like fiber-cement.
How do I prevent it?
Like most exterior effort, caulk and paint regularly. And keep the water away. This is usually done with gutters.
I predict that over time this type of rot will be less of a problem. The builders are using more resilient materials than they used to for house trim, like pressure treated and fiber cement.
Here’s the trim on my parents’ house. It’s made of pressure-treated lumber and will last till the cows come home.
Under Your Sinks
This is the most insidious of all because, seriously, who ever checks for leaks under the sink? We just grab the next bar of soap and shut the cabinet door.
But you should check every once in a while. There are two main ways water will leak under your sink and cause rot. First, your faucet supply lines can (and over time, likely will) start a slow drip. Second, your drain seals can fail.
This leak is insidious because it is one drip at a time – no sound, behind the scenes. Until one day you do look under the sink and see black mold everywhere and have a puddle (and rotten wood) in the bottom of your sink cabinet.
How do I fix it?
First, diagnose the problem, supply lines or drain. If it is the supply lines, you will see dripping water even if the sink is not running. For drains, it will only drip when water is running through the drain.
Only one way. Look under your sinks ever month or so. Another trick is to put a dry paper towel under your sink. If there is even a drip, you will see it immediately without having to crawl under there.
A little prevention goes a long way
I know it’s a pain to add more maintenance tasks to your already busy list, but repairing these three common wood rot issues is really expensive.
You can check and prevent these in less that three hours a year vs. hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars in repair.