Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is the editor-in-chief of Living the Country Life and executive editor of Successful Farming. She grew up on a fruit farm in Maryland (see and moved to the Midwest to get an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, have three children and own a farm where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans.

February 25, 2013

Winter blues

I took this photo last week after a snow storm. No filter, no photoshop. This is the winter blues.

We are all a little tired of winter, but we must trudge on through the rest of February and into March before spring arrives.

To brighten up your day, here is the photo we are using on our Early Spring cover. The story is about a tulip farm in Oregon. (

  • Tags:
February 21, 2013

Top 10 movies of the year

2012 was a good year for cinema. I live near a movie theater and saw all nine films up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is my Top 10 list, as well as favorite performances. You can debate me, if you'd like!

1. Les Miserables Yes, it was too long, and the new song was bad, and Crowe can't sing (he still makes a perfect cop). But I loved the movie. Such emotion. This is a film to see on the big screen with an audience. It won't be the same on your TV.

2. Zero Dark Thirty Yes, it was too long, and I didn't need to see the torture scenes. But the second half of the film is astounding. Woman catches the ultimate bad guy.

3. Lincoln Yes, it was too long (see the pattern?), and the politics were boring. But Day-Lewis is mesmerizing. The quiet parts of the film were my favorites. I would have ended it when Lincoln was walking down the hall. We all know what happens next; the director didn't have to show it.

4. Moonrise Kingdom This is such a quirky, fun film. I lost myself in that world.

5. Argo This will probably win, because it has the fewest flaws and won't upset people. But it fell slightly flat for me.

6. Django Unchained A total blood spurting sport. I hid my eyes several times. But what a ride.

7. Life of Pi Ang Lee is my favorite director. His films are paced and styled so well. They have soul. Nobody else could have made this lovely movie.

8. Silver Linings Playbook I enjoyed this and laughed often, but felt slightly uncomfortable throughout. Bradley Cooper does nothing for me.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild Imaginative and fun. The young actress is extraordinary.

10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Loved the trolls. Everyone else panned this film, but I was entertained.

Also good

11. Amour Best performances of the year, but waaaaaaaaay too depressing.

12. The Sessions Well done, but I didn't need to see that.

13. Skyfall Daniel Craig, Daniel Craig, Daniel Craig. Nice.

14. Anna Karenina Keira Knightley is so beautiful and stylish. Loved the costumes. But this was no Dr. Zhivago.

15. Snow White and the Huntsman The bad witch was very bad and very good.

Best performances

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Christoph Waltz, Django

Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Director: Ang Lee

Did not see, but heard good things:

The Master

The Impossible


Cloud Atlas




  • Tags:
February 19, 2013

Hoop beef barn

Bob was working cattle for a client one day and came home with these photos. He was so happy to be in a comfortable climate while pounding calves through the chute. Some days he's hours in a cold wind.

He told me I needed to write a story about Gary Thompson's new barn. So here it is:


High winds and heavy snow are on the way, but Gary Thompson of Liberty Center, Iowa, is not worried about how he’s going to feed his stocker cattle in a blizzard.

“During the last snow storm, they never missed a beat,” he says. Thompson finished construction on a hoop barn last November that can hold 320 head of stocker calves in a deep bedding system.

The barn is 44 feet wide and 368 feet long. It was designed by Hoop Beef Systems ( and built by local contractors.

Thompson says he had been researching a switch to the hoop barn system for six years. A muddy spring finally tipped him over the edge.

“I’m old and tired and didn’t like chasing cattle all over,” he said, only partially joking.

The new barn has two 80-head pens and four 40-head pens, plus 48 feet on the west end for a working facility. The layout allows him to size and sort calves better.

“We built it for efficiency,” says Thompson. “Cattle gain more efficiently and grow faster.” His calves added about 4 pounds a day in January. “They were smoking, gaining like crazy.”

Environment inside

The temperature in the barn is not a lot different than outside, he says, but “there is no wind, and it’s dry. Cold is not the issue with cattle – it is wet and wind.”

In the hot days of summer, air rises off the cattle and out the top of the barn. There is a curtain along the north side.

For 70% of the year there is no difference between the performance of his outdoor cattle and those in the barn, says Thompson, “But for 30% of the days there is a huge difference.”

He’s looking at one of those days heading his way this week.

Hoop Beef System

8 Anderson St
Vermillion, SD, 57069
Phone: 888-683-9076

Gary Thompson:

The photo below was taken by Jon Beck.

February 18, 2013

Running out of hay

Bob is hearing from clients that are running out of hay. Cattle auctions in some parts of the Midwest are flooded with cows, as producers hit with drought last summer liquidate herds.

Some farmers are backing off on rations to hold out until spring. This can be dangerous when cows are close to calving. Bob advised one client with skinny heifers to "push the groceries and sleep with the herd." Meaning: Watch them night and day, because there will be calving trouble.

I reported this news on Twitter and heard from Avery Kasper: "It's the same way in Kansas. No pasture and nothing to supplement. Guys are shipping cattle out of state to sell."

We are two months until first cutting, so the situation is getting serious.

We culled our ewe herd to 38 last fall, and have two small cuttings of alfalfa still stacked in the barn, so we are good.

Unless we have another drought.

February 15, 2013

Let's keep wrestling!

This was a week of surprising news on many fronts (the Pope retires!), but in Iowa, where wrestling is king, the news that wrestling may be dropped from the Olympics got the most attention. The Iowa high school wrestling state tournament is going on as I write this, and a family friend from Indianola is just one win away from the finals.

As a former wrestling cheerleader, I'm going to the mat to overturn this dumb decision by the Olympic committee. Here is a note I got with ways to help.

Thank you for signaling your support for wrestling in the Olympics. We are looking to organize Iowans around this issue in the coming weeks and will be in touch with more information soon.

Please tell your friends and family about and spread the word on Twitter ( and Facebook (


Governor Branstad Committee

Below: Here I am as a wrestling cheerleader with my friends Robin, center, and Kelly, right.

  • Tags:
February 14, 2013

Dogs eating toys

This poor guy isn't too happy, but he's going to be fine. Bob surgically removed three "stuffing-free dog toys" out of his stomach this week. Those toys are popular right now, and no less dangerous than letting dogs chew any old stuffed animal. The selling points from manufacturers are, "hours of safe, healthy fun, stuffing-free, lays flat, easy to play with..."


February 12, 2013

Further developments

This is the view from the end of our lane. (That vet truck needs a wash!) The retirement home is expanding, and the YMCA in the distance is only months from its grand opening. Our 36-acre farm will have many more eyes on it. We bought seven sets of blinds for the windows to keep those old folks from snooping. HA. I really wish our house was in the middle of the pasture instead of near the road.

  • Tags:
February 11, 2013

Kidding time

This time last year we had this cute set of quads on the ground. However, their caretaker -- Caroline -- went off to college, so all the goats were sold after the county fair. I miss them, but Bob does not. Goats jump over every fence.

We still have 38 ewes, all pregnant and due in April. They are chewing through the hay in the barn. The harvest was down last year in the drought.

The subsoil in Iowa is still very dry. We had nice rains the past week, but the situation is troublesome.

If you are kidding or lambing or calving right now, good luck!

Drop some photos for us to see here:


February 7, 2013

Front Porch: Before and After

I am planning projects for our acreage this spring. 2012 was the Year of the Front Porch. After 100 years, the brick was cracked, the floor rotted, and the concrete steps crumbling. We found several local craftsmen to do the work, selected brick (I had no idea there were so many color and texture options) and flooring (again, many options), and wrote checks. Here are photos that show the porch before, during and after. There is still much landscaping work to do this spring. I can't wait to sit on my new front porch!


Our old cat, Marvin, loved the old porch even if it was cracked and peeling.

After we removed the old porch, people commented, "Your house sure looks different without the porch." Different = Ugly.

The ugly gets worse.

Marvin inspects the brick for his new porch.

New porch and new sidewalk, still wet.

Dirt work before winter sets in. This spring we will seed grass and add a few shrubs.


February 6, 2013

No Saturday mail

The end of Saturday mail service has Living the Country Life readers stirred up. What do you think? Join the discussion here.

Most people are just glad to not receive bills in their mailbox on Saturday.

I don't mind, IF they keep our post office open on Saturday. That is the only day I can get there to mail packages.


  • Tags: