Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is an Executive Editor for Meredith Agrimedia, including Living the Country Life and Successful Farming. She grew up on a fruit farm in Maryland (see and has an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, live on a farm in Iowa where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans.

June 20, 2013


I saw several thistles in the grove and knew they had to come out fast. We have noxious weed "police" in Iowa and they will pay a visit. Besides, thistles can spread and ruin your pasture. I grabbed a sack and the clippers and started cutting. The blooms are quite lovely, but you have to wear gloves. Nasty plant.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it got a lot of discussion. Join in here.

June 18, 2013

First year on the job

"I dare you to put that on your blog." Okay, here it is.

Keep in mind, it was 1984 and guy shorts really were that short. Remember basketball players from that era? Still. I can't believe Bob wore those to the office.

I think Mom took the photo. She and Dad were visiting me at my first job as Assistant Swine Editor at Successful Farming magazine. Bob was in vet school. I'm in my first cubicle. (They still look the same here today, except for the typewriter and rotary phone.)

Today, June 18, is my 29th anniversary at Successful Farming/Living the Country Life. Technology has changed, duties have changed (no web site in 1984, for one thing), and thankfully, fashion has changed. Although, Bob still wears a Walnut Springs Farm t-shirt in almost every photo.

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June 17, 2013

June is beautiful

The hay Bob cut last week got rained on three times and is still down. He cut another field of alfalfa last night, so we are hoping for a sunny week. My lawn is green, the garden is growing, and flowers are blooming. Enjoy June while you can!

This was the field of alfalfa we cut last night (I took the photo May 7). The crop had to come down, even with rain possible this week.

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June 14, 2013

What's growing

I'm gunning for the Biggest Potato ribbon at the county fair again. My spuds are growing fast. Tomatoes, not so good. They will be late this year.

Hope your garden is doing well!

June 12, 2013

1st cutting -- finally

It's old and yellow. Got rained on, too.

There's nothing good about this field of alfalfa. Bob wanted to rip it up last fall and replant, but the guy with the equipment wasn't available. So we are left with a field of mustard.

We haven't cut the alfalfa field behind the barn. It's better quality, so we are waiting. At some point, you just have to grit your teeth, ignore the weather report, and get that first cutting out of there.


June 10, 2013

Freese Family reunion

On the second Sunday in June every year, the descendants of Bernard and Caroline Freese, who came from Germany in 1880, gather to catch up. We celebrated yesterday in Haverhill, Iowa, where the Freese family settled and had seven children. One of their sons, Leo, was my husband's grandfather.

The oldest person at the reunion was Bernard Freese, 85, shown below next to a photo of his grandfather, the original Bernard. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Our daughter, Caroline, 19, was named for the original Caroline Freese, her great-great grandmother, who was born in 1868. Below are old photos and info about the family.

The original Caroline Freese.

The Catholic church in Haverhill, Iowa, where Bernard and Caroline raised their family.

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June 7, 2013

Top 5 issues for pork producers

World Pork Expo celebrated its 25th anniversary this week and I've been to every one. Why stop now? I had a good time at the Iowa State Fairgrounds talking to producers, hearing the news, and eating ribs, sausage, bacon, and more.

The Top 5 Hog Issues, according to producers in the trenches:

1. New porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED). First diagnosed this spring, one Midwest producer lost 18,000 pigs in four days to the disease. Scientists are swarming the issue and hope to have a vaccine soon, but so far they don't know how the virus is spreading. Hog farms are on virtual lockdown. (This virus does not affect humans.)

2. Corn crop. Will there be enough corn? Spring was late and wet. Sam Carney is a happy Iowa pork producer. He planted around the clock and got his crops in by Memorial Day. "We ran hard."

3. Crate regulations. Gestation stalls are being banned in some states. Are the largest producers going to make the switch to pens? Smithfield is converting farms, but most of the other Pork Powerhouses are not ready to move away from crates.

4. Chinese company buying Smithfield Foods. China's largest meat processor is acquiring the U.S.'s largest hog farmer and processor. What do U.S. pork producers think? I heard everything from, "It will be good for our export market" to "This could be a food safety nightmare." Most producers fell into this camp: "It's business as usual for us."

5. Trade. Trade is always an issue for the hog industry. Everyone hopes the export markets stay strong and countries do not ban our pork for one reason or another.

June 4, 2013

Summer break!

We don't have an ocean in Iowa, but we make do.

Enjoy your summer -- find some time to relax!


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May 30, 2013

Coyote trouble (graphic content)

Between noon and 6 p.m. yesterday, a coyote slipped under the fence of the corral behind our barn and killed a lamb. Bob had fed the lambs on his lunch break and nothing was amiss. By suppertime he was greeted with the carcass below. I'm posting the photos because they show how a coyote kills, versus a dog. We had dogs attack our sheep in the past. They rip at the sheep from behind, tearing legs and udders. Coyotes kill at the neck (notice the bite wounds and neck trauma) and then tear out the organs. This coyote even left a clear paw print in the mud. The coin is a quarter.

The question now is, what do we do about this? We were just ready to send the ewes and lambs to pasture. With coyotes hungry enough and brave enough to come into the barn lot, the pasture would become a killing field.

I posted the question on social media last night. We can't shoot the varmints because we live in the town limits where that's illegal. A friend has good luck with mini donkeys for guard animals. Bob doesn't want to mess with donkeys. He says he's selling the herd. He might get grass calves.

Stupid coyotes.

Track of a coyote, with quarter for size.

Bite marks