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April 4, 2013

Everything You Need To Know About Backyard Chickens


Associated Press

It’s one thing to get permits from the local authorities and reach agreement with the neighbors. Before you set up housekeeping for a small flock of chickens, also be sure to provide the proper surroundings to keep them from flying the coop.

Chickens are like any other birds invited into the yard; they need food, water and cover to be healthy and happy, said Jessica Bloom, author of ``Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful Chicken-Friendly Yard’’ (Timber Press. 2012).

``It’s best if you can create some beneficial habitat for your free-ranging chickens, particularly plants they can eat from,’’ Bloom said in a telephone interview from her home at Mill Creek, Washington. ``That also gives them some shelter and a general sense of well-being.’’

She calls that a ``food forest’’ — a diverse and multi-layered mix of tree canopy, berry-laden shrubs, vines, groundcover and planting beds.

``You can create a food forest garden in any aesthetic style in a typical urban, suburban or rural backyard,’’ Bloom said.

Chickens can be great for a backyard: They control pests, aerate yards, and supply fertilizer and eggs. They’re entertaining, too.

But they also love to scratch and peck when foraging, and that can destroy gardens.

Fence garden areas, particularly when the plants are small and at their most sensitive, Bloom said. Use containers so chickens can’t reach high enough to get at their contents.

Hen houses, chicken coops or night shelters are a must for every flock, especially to ward off predators, she said.

``If they are well designed, these little structures can be fun, colorful and add an attractive element to any garden.’’
A few more suggestions for getting things started:

_ It’s easier to build a flock by buying chicks than by trying to hatch your own, Bloom said. ``That’s something to consider for later, though, because seeing the cycle of life is pretty amazing.’’

_ You don’t need roosters unless you want to breed your own chickens, said David Frame, an extension poultry specialist with Utah State University. ``Not having a rooster will help keep the noise down in an urban setting, where they’re often illegal,’’ he said. ``But personally, I’d rather hear a rooster crow in the morning than listen to a dog bark.’’

_ Have everything ready before you bring home your birds. ``Some people pick up their chickens at the local feed store and say, `Now what?’’’ Frame said. ``Know what you need and have it available.’’

_ Chickens will eat almost anything, including table scraps, grass and insects. ``But they have to have a balanced diet,’’ Frame said. ``Get some sort of commercial chickenfeed that’s loaded with vitamins and minerals.’’

_ Keep living areas clean to prevent disease and rodents. Chicken manure makes great fertilizer but it’s extremely high in nitrogen. ``You definitely want to cure used litter for a while before putting it on your plants if you want to compost it,’’ said Jennifer Cook, with Colorado State University Extension.

Chickens can be trained to do a number of things like returning to the coop at night when called. Frequent handling makes them tamer.

``It just depends upon how much time you want to spend with them,’’ Bloom said. ``I know people who run their chickens through agility courses.’’

History Buffs Gather To Mark 80th Anniversary Of Air Disaster


Associated Press

Lakehurst, NJ (AP History buffs will gather this week near the New Jersey coast to commemorate a major airship disaster.

No, not that one.

Newsreel footage and radio announcer Herbert Morrison’s plaintive cry, ``Oh, the humanity!’’ made the 1937 explosion of the Hindenburg at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station probably the best-known crash of an airship.

But just four years earlier, a U.S. Navy airship seemingly jinxed from the start and later celebrated in song crashed only about 40 miles away, claiming more than twice as many lives.

The USS Akron, a 785-foot dirigible, was in its third year of flight when a violent storm sent it plunging tail-first into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933.

``No broadcasters, no photographers, no big balls of fire, so who knew?’’ said Nick Rakoncza, a member of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society. ``Everybody thinks that the Hindenburg was the world’s greatest (airship) disaster. It was not.’’

A ceremony to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the crash, the deadliest airship disaster on record, is being held Thursday at a veterans park where there is a tiny plaque dedicated to the victims. Below it is a small piece of metal from the airship.

The USS Akron, whose crash is seldom noted

Few in the area seemed to know about the disaster, let alone the memorial plaque; even a Navy officer sent on an underwater mission to explore the wreckage many years later had not heard of the Akron.

``It’s almost a forgotten accident,’’ said Rick Zitarosa, historian for the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society. ``The Akron deserves to be remembered.’’

The Akron crashed off the community of Barnegat Light just a few hours after taking off from Lakehurst, killing 73 of the 76 men aboard, largely because the ship had no life vests and only one rubber raft, according to Navy records and the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society. They had been moved to another airship and were never replaced.

Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Wiley, Moody Erwin and Richard Deal were pulled from the frigid waters by a German tanker that had been nearby.

Erwin and Deal had been hanging on a fuel tank. Wiley was clinging to a board, according to an account he gave to a newspaper the next day.

In a newsreel interview, Wiley, standing next to the other survivors, said he was in the control car just before the crash. He said crew members could not see the ocean until they were about 300 feet above the water.
``The order was given to stand by for a crash,’’ Wiley said. ``The ship hit the water within 30 seconds of that order and most of us, I believe, we catapulted into the water.’’

Among the casualties was Rear Adm. William Moffett, the first chief of the Bureau of Navy Aeronautics.

When the wreckage was found, Zitarosa said, the airship had collapsed to about 25 feet in height. It had originally stood at about 150 feet.

``It was a catastrophic disintegration of the ship once it hit the water,’’ Zitarosa said.

Part of the wreckage was lifted from the sea a few weeks after the accident.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, had been awarded a Navy contract in 1928 to build the Akron and a second rigid airship, the Macon. Construction of the Akron by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corp. was completed in 1931.

It was plagued by problems from the start.

It was involved in three accidents before its final flight, including one in which its tail slammed into the ground several times. Another accident killed two sailors.

Some men who died in the Akron had survived the airship crash of the USS Shenandoah less than a year before.

A day after the Akron disaster, a blimp sent out to look for bodies malfunctioned and crashed in Barnegat Light, killing two more crew members.

A year later, Wiley was the commanding officer on the USS Macon when it was lost in a storm off of Port Sur, Calif., also killing two crew members. Wiley survived, but that was it for him and airships.

In June 2002, the Navy ordered a mission to explore the wreckage of the Akron. The NR-1 explored several hundred feet of debris 120 feet deep.

The officer of the NR-1 at the time, Dennis McKelvey, said that they could not see much of the wreckage through murky waters, but that some metal along the ocean floor resembled ``ribs sticking out of the mud.’’

Even McKelvey, now a retired Navy captain, had not heard of the Akron disaster before he was dispatched to view the site.

``I had to go do my own research,’’ McKelvey said. ``I thought I would have learned about it at some point.’’

Hurricane Uncovers Sadness Of Unclaimed Patients’ Remains


Associated Press

Waterbury, VT (AP) An all-but-forgotten cemetery and its dozens of long-dead patients of the forerunner of the Vermont State Hospital are reaching from beyond their hillside graves to help modernize state law regulating what happens when someone dies and no one claims the remains.

The issue emerged from the shadows of history because of Tropical Storm Irene, which more than a year ago inundated the hospital complex, destroyed many old patient records and rendered the complex unusable. As plans were made for a new hospital, some feared the cemetery was in danger of being forgotten again.

``Somehow it felt incredibly important to give those people back the dignity of their identity,’’ said state Rep. Anne Donahue, a Democrat from Northfield and longtime advocate for the mentally ill. ``I wanted to find out who was here.’’

The patients in the Waterbury cemetery came from points all over the state, from Holland on the Canadian border to Bennington, in southern Vermont. One was born in Prussia, most of which is now Poland. Another was from Ireland. The youngest was a child who died at birth along with his mother. The oldest was 82. Their demises resulted from a variety of causes, but many list variations of insanity as an underlying condition; in one case, it was brought on by ``domestic affliction.’’

What they all had in common was dying between 1891 and 1913 while in state custody as patients at the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane. At the time they were buried, the cemetery, up a steep hill just above the Winooski River, looked out over a farm field now covered by Interstate 89.

``They were all individuals who had no one willing to claim their bodies, and so they ended up here,’’ Donahue said.

Many of the original records of their lives—and deaths—were lost when Irene’s floods inundated the nearby hospital complex. The state hospital itself was moved from Waterbury, and its permanent replacement is under construction in the town of Berlin.

Donahue said she first heard of the hillside cemetery last fall during a ceremony marking the permanent closure of the last remnant of the hospital, abandoned during the August 2011 storm with the remaining patients spread across the state while officials figured out how to replace it.

Over the decades, people have acknowledged the presence of the cemetery. A historian who wrote about the state hospital noted that in the 1970s, the indentations of the original graves were still visible. And it was marked in 1991 with a granite headstone remembering the people buried there: ``May their spirits soar. You are remembered.’’

Donahue spent months going through death and census records, as well as leftover information about the cemetery and the people buried there. Her list isn’t definitive, but it offers a glimpse into a time when people with mental illness were hidden away.

Sally Town was 30 when she died in childbirth along with her baby. Her pregnancy had been discovered two weeks before her death. Her death certificate said she died after her brain was destroyed by syphilis.

Amelia Platka died at age 63 in 1898. The native of Germany died of liver disease. The cause of her insanity was listed as ``domestic affliction.’’

After hearing their stories and others, Donahue wanted to use her position as a lawmaker to pass a law guaranteeing the cemetery would be taken care of forever. But in researching the case, she found that that site, on state land, was already protected.

Instead, she was shocked to learn the reason why no more people were buried at the cemetery after about 1912: State law began allowing the bodies of people who died unclaimed to be used for medical research, a practice that eventually fell into disuse.

After she started working on a bill to repeal that law, she heard from Vermont’s health commissioner, Dr. Harry Chen. He told her the state had no clear mechanism for the ultimate disposal of unclaimed remains. 

Right now, there is one body being held by the medical examiner that has no next of kin. A couple of others, in which the next of kin wants nothing to do with the ultimate disposition, are being held, Chen said.

``At any given time, there are a couple corpses that are kind of waiting for people to claim them or figure out how to dispose of the remains in a respectful way,’’ Chen said. ``It’s sad.’’

The Vermont Medical Examiner checked with other states and determined that the procedures for dealing with unclaimed remains varies widely across the country, Health Department spokesman Robert Stirewalt said.

Donahue’s proposal outlines how unclaimed remains should be cremated and then held by the medical examiner’s office for three years while a search is conducted for someone willing to keep them. After that, they could be buried or disposed of through other methods.

The bill has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.



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