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

October 27, 2015

A day at the livestock auction

Bob and I took a load of 23 lambs to Colfax (IA) Livestock Sales last Saturday. The barns were as full as I've seen them in months. Lots of sheep and goats are going to market for the holiday season.

Our lambs averaged 135 pounds and brought $1.51 a pound.

Before touring the barns, one must eat breakfast. We started with homemade black raspberry pie.

It was 10:00, so we will call this brunch. Hey, we were up at dawn to weigh and sort lambs!

The Colfax police were checking for cattle rustlers. Actually, this "Mayberry" car was heading to a parade.

Time to walk the barn and see what's for sale today.

It's unusual to see pigs at the auction anymore. These are probably culls from a show-pig farm. Many were heavily muscled.

Nice horns.

Our lambs heading out of the sale ring. We have 17 more left at home.


October 20, 2015

Loading Up, Heading Out

We marketed our first lambs of 2015 last week, taking five to the Indianola locker and 24 to Colfax Livestock Sales Co. The lambs were born in April and grew quickly. The Colfax lot averaged 138 pounds and brought $1.55 a pound. Bob is taking another trailer load on Saturday.

For the first three weeks in October we had zero rain, so conditions have been perfect for harvest in Iowa. Bob is spreading the old compost piles on the pasture for fertilizer. It's so seasoned it barely smells. He's now building new piles with old bedding from the barn.

Loading the trailer at dawn.

A few of the April lambs weighed 150+ pounds. That's fast growth.

This is not dirt.

Hauling fertilizer to the pasture.

Cheryl Tevis (right) retired last week after 36 years at Successful Farming magazine. No editor has produced more pages of copy for the magazine in its 113-year history. I have worked with Cheryl for 31 years and will miss her. I know she has many projects back on the home farm in central Iowa. Congratulations, Cheryl!

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October 12, 2015

Brilliant Autumn

A walk down the lane and around the pasture brings great peace and beauty in the fall.

The ewes line up in the morning sun to see who is invading their pasture.

The pond is full and healthy.

Back at the house, Bob has lined up his hay equipment for one last run. He heard a drought was predicted for the Midwest next summer, so figured more hay was needed.

A basket of beautiful alfalfa. We squeezed two of these loads into the barn.

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October 5, 2015

Enjoying Fall

A splash of color in the front yard is such a cheerful greeting. Fall colors are really starting to pop.

Bob uses an apple peeler to make thin layers for apple crisp. So many apples this year...

Janis Gandy, copy editor for Living the Country Life, made a dozen table decorations like this one for Dan Looker's retirement party. Dan was the business editor of Successful Farming. I provided the hay peeking out at the bottom.

One of our rams has a bad foot. Bob gives him a pedicure with the grinder.

Bob took this photo of an English bulldog who knows exactly where to sit on the ATV.

Hedge apples are ripe.

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September 29, 2015

All things pork and more

Every fall for the past 21 years I have released an exclusive report on the swine industry called Pork Powerhouses. It includes a ranking of the largest 25 pork producers in the U.S. To celebrate the release of the report I flew to North Carolina and ate a tray of barbeque.

Actually, Bob and I were visiting our oldest son, Nowlan and his wife, Daniella. Here are some photos.

The pulled pork (bottom center) at The Smoke Pit in Concord, NC, was the best I've ever had. Also included on the tray are fried okra, mac and cheese, cornbread, cole slaw, ribs, chicken, and brisket.

We enjoyed a lively discussion of agriculture and genomics with pork industry guru Randy Stoecker (center).

Nowlan (with Daniella, right) showed us around his research campus in Kannapolis, NC.

Nowlan has a National Science Foundation grant to study the modulation of alternative splicing by methylation in salt-stressed rice.

Nowlan and Bob visited The Intimidator, a likeness of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who was born in Kannapolis.

We toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte because it seemed appropriate for a trip to the area. It was great fun, and I recommend the museum. Here Bob, Daniella, and Nowlan are practicing their driving skills. Next, we all got in race cars and raced (with simulators). It seemed quite real when I crashed into the wall.

There was even a car in the gift shop that tied back nicely to my Pork Powerhouses report.


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September 21, 2015

Happy Fall!

There are still tons of apples on the tree at the pond. Bob is using the fruit picker pole to snag the highest apples and those hanging over the pond. I have two huge bags of apples waiting for me to cook down for applesauce. I will make another apple crisp, too.

The market lambs are growing like crazy. You would never know it's fall. Our pastures are as green as Ireland.

Plop. Another apple hits the pond. The snapping turtles will enjoy them later.

Bob feeds the lambs at dusk. They are five months old and weigh 120 pounds or more. That is good daily gain.

Lots of green grass for our ewes in the pasture.

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September 16, 2015

Hay Fever

Somehow, somewhere, Bob found more hay to bale and a corner of the barn to house it.

Besides a fourth cutting of alfalfa at our place, which was green, wet, and heavy when stacked in the barn (we'll use it quickly), he baled the empty industrial park lot to our east. That grass hay was full of weeds, but will make decent bedding.

Bob says he can't help it. He has hay fever.

I'm looking forward to the end of the growing season.


September 9, 2015

Killing thistles and picking apples

Early fall is such a busy time on a farm or acreage. There is so much to harvest and so much to kill.

We started with the thistles in the pasture. Sure, the yellow flowers were full of bees, but those noxious weeds had to go. We cut them and threw them in the wagon for the burning pile.

Speaking of bees and weeds, Bob decided he had had enough of my pollinator patch. He mowed it down, leaving one flowering stalk.

Next, he mowed around the pond and saw that the old apple tree had fruit this year (it only has apples about every three years). Boy, did it ever. I picked two large bags full and made applesauce. I will pick more this weekend.

I don't know the name of this type of thistle. Do you?

My pollinator garden earlier this summer. Check out the freaky yellow spider in the flower. He hid and killed the bee when it landed. Bees can't catch a break these days.

All that's left of my weed patch.

I've never seen our tree, or any tree, so laden with apples.

Mickey waits for a bite. Bob took this photo of his daily lunch companion.

Here's another photo by Bob. This farmer's granddaughter, a gymnast who trains at Chow's, was running the cattle chute gate.


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September 1, 2015

The Barn is Full, but Bob Keeps Baling

Bob finished plugging every nook and cranny of the hayloft on August 13th (above). It was our 32nd wedding anniversary, so I remember the date.

Last week he baled the west half of the pasture and filled two baskets and five racks. That hay was sold or stored in the machine shed.

We have had a wet summer, and rain makes hay. Our sheep will not go hungry this winter.

Bob and his hired help, John, needed supper in the field. I work in Des Moines, so I raced through Culvers on my way home.

"Doing a lot of this tonight," was my Twitter caption for this photo.

A hay basket broke on this gravel road, spilling the contents. Bob stacked the bales on the side and Caroline and I waited for him to return with the flat-bed trailer.

An old farmer stopped to give us this stool sample.

Hay rack selfie.

August 25, 2015

Landscaping with Sheep: Step by Step

All the rain this summer turned my (so-called) landscaping into a jungle. Vines covered the lilacs and bridal wreath spirea on the west side of the lawn, even climbing the nearby evergreen to the top. I could see poison ivy hiding in some of the bushes. Ugh.

Bob decided to call in the big guns. He fenced off portions of the yard and let the ewes have a feast. Once they finished, he ran the chain saw and I used the loppers and rake to clean it up. Here are the steps.

Step 1: Let the "little lambs eat ivy."

Step 2: Clean up what's left.

Step 3: Move the ewes to the next patch -- lilacs overrun by Virginia creeper.

Step 4: Cut back the lilacs to a small patch and let the ewes eat the discards.

Step 5: Fence off the bridal wreath bush and let the ewes eat away.

Step 6: Fire up the chipper.

Step 7: Continue chipping the twigs, trees, and defoliated vines and bushes.

Step 8: Dump the chips in the washout area of the pasture lane (after adding a few more branches).

Step 9: The chips slow water down during heavy rains.

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