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

March 20, 2014

Celebrating spring and farmers

Our dear copy editor, Janis Gandy, gave everyone two daffodils for their desks. It's been a long winter and we are all happy to finally see spring arrive.

Many coworkers came in my office with their flowers so we could post a thank-you photo for Janis. I took the photo from behind my desk. I won't name everyone from Successful Farming, but the woman in the middle is Diana Weesner, who is the person you will talk to on the phone if you call Living the Country Life. Next to her in purple is our apprentice, Anna McConnell, who wrote the cover story for our Early Spring issue.

Below the daffodil photo is an old photo of the Successful Farming magazine staff (no internet back then) in March 1985, celebrating Ag Day with a full table of food. I am in the middle. I notice that I didn't get a glass of milk to hold, and I don't remember eating the food.

Celebrate farmers and enjoy spring!

  • Tags:
March 17, 2014

How Did This All Happen?

On Saturday I gave a talk to 500 farmers entitled, "How Did This All Happen?" I didn't choose the title, but it's a good question for almost anything.

In this case, the audience was made up of pork producers in the Murphy-Brown (Smithfield Foods) contract hog growing program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I was the first to write about the program all those years ago, back when contract feeding in Iowa was rare and highly controversial.

The headline for the story in Successful Farming (the first part is below) has haunted Conley Nelson, who still runs the program today, since it was published. He still gets teased for having the "toughest" job.

Rick McCormick, shown at left in his barn, continues to feed hogs for Murphy. The initial fears people had that the barns wouldn't survive 10 years in Iowa winters have not held true.

Contract feeding is now common across the Midwest. It's not a perfect system for everyone, but it has proven its worth to thousands of farmers.

It's not that tough of a job now, Conley. Relax.

March 12, 2014

Planting itch

Bob took this photo of me in early April last year. I was planting cabbages and kohlrabi. I can't wait to dig into our good soil again, but I think it may be delayed this spring. We had the coldest winter in 35 years in Iowa and frost is deep.

I bought my seed potatoes last week and have them in the garage. Last year I waited too long and the Yukon Gold variety was sold out in my area. I have never grown those, but people rave about them.

What are you planting this year that you have never grown before? Believe it or not, I've never grown tulips. I planted 200 bulbs last fall in the front yard. Waiting...

  • Tags:
March 5, 2014

Wool Removal Day

I don't care how cold it is today, that wool is coming off. I'm not sure our ewes were too happy, but how would you know? We always shear a few weeks before lambing, so the ewes come in the barn at night to give birth. The new babies don't have to fight all that dirty wool to find the udder.

David Ekstrom with Successful Farming took this shot of me in the wool bag. David was taking video of the shearing process.


March 3, 2014

What I'm giving up for Lent

"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself."

When I was talking to Mom on Saturday she brought up this Bible verse. At church yesterday, the same scripture was the Gospel reading. I decided that was a sign.

The lesson is from Matthew 6:24-34. Jesus is speaking to his followers, who had basic necessities to worry about, like food and clothing.

I tend to worry about family. This has been a long winter of worrying. Dad spent weeks in hospitals with a brain injury from a fall, and is still recovering. Bob's dad has spent the past few weeks in hospitals with health issues. Big transitions are being required of them and of the rest of our family. I also worry about my three kids, their happiness and careers.

Here's what I'm giving up for Lent this year: Worry. I'm fasting from worry.

Care to join me?


  • Tags:
February 27, 2014

My Top 10 Films and Predictions

I am a movie buff, so here are my Oscar predictions just for the heck of it. I will make it a Top 10 list with the predictions inside.

10. Blue Jasmine -- Clever and depressing. I felt like I was there on screen with Cate Blanchett, living her crazy life. She wins Best Actress.

9. 12 Years a Slave -- I did not enjoy this movie (how could you?), but I was awed by the performances, so it makes my Top 10 list.

8. American Hustle -- The women (Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) were tremendous. The men, so so. The story didn't grab me as much as I hoped.

7. The Great Gatsby -- Weird, dreamy, mesmerizing. I fell for it.

6. Captain Phillips -- Tense. The last part in the lifeboat went on too long, but great acting and drama.

5. Gravity -- Loved the feeling of floating in space. The story and George Clooney were a bit looney.

4. Dallas Buyers Club -- I forgot people were acting in this movie it was so real. Jared Leto Best Supporting Actor.

3. Nebraska -- This movie nails small-town Midwest and the challenges of aging. Funny, sad. June Schibb wins Best Supporting Actress.

2. Philomena -- I loved this sweet movie. Loved Judi Dench's performance and her character's forgiving nature.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street -- I don't condone a thing in this movie, but what a wild ride. Leonardo DiCaprio wins Best Actor. Martin Scorsese is Best Director and this is my Best Picture. Judge away, but I was highly entertained.

Disclaimer: I did not see Her or August: Osage County

  • Tags:
February 24, 2014

5 Hot New Vet Products

I attended the Western Veterinary Conference last week with Bob and checked out the latest in new treatments for pets and livestock. This is one of the largest vet meetings in the world, with 15,000 attendees from 40 countries. Here are the most buzzed-about new products:

1. A new treatment for itching dogs. Apoquel by Zoetis will stop dogs from itching and scratching within hours. That is monumental, I was told. This product is on everyone's wish list and the company sold a year's worth of product in the first 10 days. If you have a dog that itches, get on the waiting list now.

2. A chewable that kills fleas and ticks. NexGard by Merial will kills fleas before they lay eggs and kill the disgusting American dog tick. YES. Give this soft beef-flavored chew once a month. How easy. This product is also back ordered.

3. A paint gun that shoots insectide for horn flies. VetGun by AgriLabs lets you apply a topical insecticide from as far away as 30 feet from cattle. Less stress for both man and beast. Can't wait to try this.

4. An alternative to iodine. Super 7 + Navel Dip by Vetericyn is is an umbilical cord dry-out and protective solution for newborn animals that is completely safe. Farmers and vets have long used 7% tincture of iodine as a navel dip, but it's now regulated and restricted due to its use in making meth.

5. An alternative to surgical castration. Zeuterin by Ark Sciences is made of zinc gluconate -- a natural ingredient in the body. It is delivered to dogs through an injection to the testis. Veterinarians can neuter male dogs without surgery. The result is permanent and irreversible fibrosis in the testicle rendering the dog sterile. A similar product, Testrin, is being tested by the largest pork producers as an alternative to surgical castration in pigs.

February 13, 2014

The Long Winter

My cousin Jen Arter posted this photo on Twitter this morning from northeastern Maryland. My parent's farm is in the background. Jen says there was 10+ inches of snow by 8 a.m.

Who is ready for spring? I'm flying back to Maryland in March, so I'm hoping winter is done by then. Fat chance this year.

  • Tags:
February 10, 2014

Fancy farm truck

Dad is finally home from the hospital after falling in the farm shop in January and suffering a brain injury. Mom is taking care of him and other family members are helping with day trips to rehab. It's a big job and the future is uncertain. We hope and pray.

Here is a toy truck Bob and Caroline fixed up for Dad. Dad found the shell of the antique truck last fall in a box of auction stuff. He loves to go to auctions and buy boxes of "junk" for $20. Sometimes there is a gem in the box. This time he didn't see much value in the old toy, so Bob took it to Iowa. He built the back part of the truck and Caroline painted it. We shipped it back to Dad as a surprise.

  • Tags:
February 7, 2014

Machines at work, different seasons

It was 8 below zero when I took the first photo yesterday. Bob has had enough of morning snow plowing.

The second photo is from last May. I posted it on Facebook and several readers asked if that was Forrest Gump on the mower. Yes, I think it is!

  • Tags: