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.


Twitter: betsyfreese

May 19, 2016

Spring Sunshine

Our small farm is green and growing! Bob was able to mow the first cutting of alfalfa last night. It was choked full of invasive wild mustard. We are going to need to reseed our fields with Roundup Ready alfalfa so we can kill that weed next spring. Nothing else seems to work, and the mustard has spread into our pasture now.

Meanwhile, the lambs are loving the sunshine and acres of grass. Bob has one bottle lamb he feeds morning and night. 

My irises are blooming and smell divine. My garden is growing. It's a great time of year!

No, that's not Mountain Dew. Bob puts milk replacer in old pop bottles. Our lambs are hyper, however. If you want to see them race around our barn, go here:

The skylights on our lean-to leaked this spring, so Bob is covering them with tin. He should be wearing a safety harness.

I took this as night fell. Bob was still working in the barn and the sheep were enjoying the last of the day's grazing. We lock them behind the barn at night for protection.

Trimming feet with help from the Spin Doctor.

Mowing the weedy alfalfa. Darn wild mustard.

My favorite spot in the yard.

These are my favorite irises. The leaves are purple velvet.

May 11, 2016

Graduation time!

I wanted to share some of Caroline's senior projects, as she graduates from Iowa State University this month. What a college adventure!

At the senior gallery reception, Caroline showed her table, chairs, and ceramics. She designed and made everything here, except the silverware.

Another view. She taught herself how to sew for the upholstery work.

The table comes apart to make TV tray tables.

I love these meat pots.

She made this self-portrait out of 30,000 Skittles.


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May 4, 2016

In Memory of Tyler

Our dear friend Tyler, age 29, Tech Sgt in a security force unit, died suddenly in April. Tyler was best friends with our oldest son, Nowlan, since they were children.

Nowlan was honored to speak at his funeral. Here is an excerpt, followed by a letter Tyler sent Nowlan from boot camp in 2004.

Eulogy for Tyler by Nowlan

However you knew Tyler, we all knew he embodied the best part of each of us. As a friend, he was always willing to help. Whether that was getting invited over to the Freese house to play video games, only to find out we had to move 1,000 bales of hay. Or the time he came over for dinner, and had to pull 300-pound pigs out of a manure pit with nothing but a rope. He never once complained or said no.

Of course, I always told him it was a good way to build character. As he wrote in a letter from boot camp, “It’s not so bad compared to going to the Freese’s.”

Tyler also seemed to have a sixth sense about everything, including all of us. He would listen quietly through an entire conversation before chiming in at the very end to trump everyone.

Life is challenging. We all have our demons to overcome. But I hope everyone here knows we are all family.

No matter how you knew Tyler, he had a way of making us all feel warm and welcome. And it’s up to us now to continue that.

So as family, know that you always have someone to talk to. The rest of us are always, always here to listen. As a family, we can overcome anything together.

Letter from Air Force boot camp in 2004


Hey man, didn’t think you would actually write me since my address is like a paragraph.

Tomorrow is the start of week 5, also known as Warrior Week. Now we finally got to do fun things like live in tents, eat MRE’s, shoot stuff, and dig holes.

One of the main parts of BMT (Basic Military Training) is doing meaningless jobs and I’ve found that working at your house was exactly like being here. One of the funny things is that we picked up all those sticks as one of our last jobs before I left. I remember I thought to myself, “I’m sure glad I won’t be doing this crap for awhile.” And boy was I wrong. One day we had to clear out an entire grove of branches. It took us almost five hours.

But anyway, sounds like things are going well at your place. I can’t believe how much I miss going over there, riding bikes, and playing games. We are going to have one heck of a Christmas break when I get back. My mom said your college starts September 1, so hopefully you get this letter. See ya in a few months.


Move on from it

Tyler loved to read and sometimes borrowed books from me. We both enjoyed the works of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. I recently reread Lonesome Dove and found this passage. It helps a little.

"Well, Deets, life is short," Agustus said. "Shorter for some than for others. ... This was a good, brave boy. ... There's accidents in life and he met with a bad one. We may all do the same if we ain't careful. 

"Dust to dust," he said. "Let's the rest of us go on to Montana."

He's right, Call thought. The best thing to do with a death was to move on from it.

-- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

NOTE: Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. For help, please go here:

Here are my favorite photos of Tyler:

Nowlan (left) and Tyler were amused by something silly I said in my kitchen.

Last summer Tyler came over to see Nowlan and ended up baling several racks of hay at our farm.

When friends visit in the summer we spend evenings talking around the bonfire. Here is Tyler (left) and friend Matt.

Playing cards over Christmas break. 

Tyler was deployed three times to the Middle East to serve his country.

The last rack.

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April 27, 2016

Beautiful spring things

Our small farm is busting out all over with lovely things -- lilacs, lambs and much more. Here are some photos, including a beautiful wedding we attended on a farm in Georgia.

Breathe it in. Old-fashioned lilacs never disappoint.

Crabapple trees are bright and cheerful behind our farm shop.

Our friends Steve and Christy Allgood were married at Serenbe Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia. Congratulations to a wonderful couple.

I pretended to play chess on this giant lawn set at Serenbe.

Returning home after a long weekend, Bob had to do a c-section on one of our ewes. Mom and baby are fine. Much thanks to our son Warren, who did all the chores for three days. Note: This ewe should never have been kept in the herd, as she also had a c-section last year. Bob checked the records and said, "Oops." 

Our front lawn looks great after we mow the dandelions. I'm waiting for the irises to bloom around the sign.


April 20, 2016

Check sheep all day

We let the oldest lambs outside this week. The two rams in the pen next door were curious to meet their offspring through the safe fence.

Bob doesn't text, so he left this note for the kids when he went to work.

All of our kids were home last weekend, so I insisted on a spur-of-the-moment family picture by the barn, come as you are, grab a lamb or two, smile.



April 15, 2016

New lambs!

We are in the full swing of lambing and grateful for the fine weather this week. Most ewes are dropping sets of triplets with ease. Bob helps a few with more difficult births. I shot live video on Facebook if you want to see the birthing process. (A few viewers thought it was gross, so discretion advised.) There is also video (below) of cute baby lambs jumping around the pens.

Here is my favorite lamb so far. I call him Milk Mustache.

Milk Mustache is one of triplets. Our good Dorset ewes are highly productive, great mothers, and milk well.

The west lambing barn.

April 6, 2016

It's hard to wait

April has been cold and wet so far. Bob took this photo of a neighbor who was too eager to work the fields for planting. 

Meanwhile, a few miles away, I took this photo of a combine harvesting corn in April. Better late then never.

This dead patch in the pasture was choked with thistles last year until Bob sprayed it. He hand-seeded before a rain this week.

I'm just throwing this in here for a laugh. I wore these to church and didn't notice the mismatch until I was pumping gas later that day. You know you have too many cowboy boots when this happens.

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March 29, 2016

Shearing Sheep

We sheared the sheep last week and I captured live video for Living the Country Life on Facebook. Check it out below.

The video has more than 23,000 views and hundreds of comments. A few people thought the sheep were being harmed, but most had positive comments about the skill of the shearer, who is a former world champion.

The ewes are due to lamb soon, and were glad to be rid of their winter coat.

Stay tuned for live video of our new lambs in April!

Warm temps, sunshine, and shorn fleece make happy sheep.

Three bags full of wool. The price we receive covers the cost of shearing.

March 23, 2016

Spring Break!

I took Caroline to New York City for spring break. It's her senior year of college, so a trip to the center of the art world was in order.

Caroline's favorite portrait, Madame X, by John Singer Sargent, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The National September 11 Memorial is a must-see. The museum, inside one of the former towers demolished by terrorists, is one of the most astounding experiences you will ever have. Every American should visit.

This huge new dinosaur skeleton was added to the American Museum of Natural History in January. The Titanosaur is 122 feet long and weighed about 70 tons. This is the closest I could get to it because the exhibit was closed to set up for a private function. (That stinks.)

This is the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District with New Jersey in the distance.

Inside the Whitney.

Our final night was at the Metropolitan Opera to see Madama Butterfly.

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March 11, 2016

Women in Ag

Successful Farming and Living the Country Life hosted a Women in Ag focus group at our office this week, and the discussion was lively and helpful. Many of the women write blogs about farm life, and know the challenges of communicating about agriculture. As Iowa farmer Alicia Schmitt put it, "Transparency in agriculture is not working as we hoped it would." People often misunderstand what happens on the farm. Why is the farmer pulling that calf with a chain? Why are you burning the horns off that goat? Why are you spraying those chemicals? Let's face it, there is no pretty way to handle downer cows.

Melissa O'Rourke, Iowa State University, told the group to put out positive images of agriculture and if people want to pick a fight, "There is nothing to be gained by engaging with them. Expend your positive energy on other people." See more advice at Ag Decision Maker.

Keep up with our Women in Ag bloggers:

Heather Barnes

Alicia Schmitt

Heather's little darling, Ben, enjoyed the meeting. They live on a farm in North Carolina.

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