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 5, 2015

What's Up, What's Blooming, What's Happening

There are so many wonderful sights to see in May, things to smell, things to do. I traveled on farms in Illinois and Missouri last week, collecting photos and interviews for Living the Country Life. There is nothing better than seeing the countryside and talking to farmers. Unless it's sitting under the blooming lilac bushes with a good book.

Of all the calves to come up to me in this pasture.

This is the east grove at our small farm in Iowa. The smell is out of this world. Bees loves these blossoms!

What's up?

I like to sit under the lilac bush while Bob mows. Score.

I really didn't want this fight to happen in front of me, and luckily it didn't.

Another photo of my flowering crabapple trees. Aaaahhh.

April 27, 2015

Lambs and Lilacs

Storms dropped more than an inch of rain over the weekend, so lots of hay bedding was needed for the youngest lambs.

Watch a video of the lambs behind our barn here.

This is a sweet time of year. My lilacs are blooming in the back yard and the new lambs are jumping for joy behind the barn. Last night we opened pens and let a new batch of babies out of the barn. The sound of baaaaaas could be heard for miles, I'm sure. Moms are trying to gather their offspring around them (not easy with triplets) and lambs are scared because mom is out of sight over at the hay feeder. Everyone settles down by sundown. We added lots of bedding behind the barn because it rained all weekend.

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April 22, 2015

Peek Inside My Barn

Little Speck is growing like crazy. This is one of the twin females I showed you earlier, the first lambs born on our farm this spring. Love the markings. They are racing around outside now, leaping in the sunshine.

Bob had to perform a c-section on a ewe this week. He set up a surgery station in her pen. She and her surviving lamb (another was dead) are doing fine today.

I love the photo below of a ewe sniffing out what Bob is doing.

April 13, 2015

Forsythia Celebrates Spring

I used a painter brush tool in Photoshop to enhance this photo, not that my forsythia needs any encouragement this spring. I forgot to trim it last year, so it's gaily waving spindly yellow arms in the breeze. Once it stops blooming I will chop it down to size.

When my forsythia blooms I know it's time to plant potatoes and onions, so that is what I did on Saturday. I also planted a row of gladiolus. We got an inch of rain last night. Perfect timing.

April 7, 2015

New lambs!

Our first lambs of 2015 were born last night and they are spotted like tiny Holstein cows. So cute. The black spots are new for our herd, thanks to the two rams we bought from Dean Houghton in Missouri last fall. It will be fun to see how long the spots stay black and how many other lambs have these markings.

The Dorset ewe lamb above is a yearling. She's doing a great job with these twins. Below is another lamb Bob is warming up in a sink bath. I'm not sure it's going to make it. That ewe struggled to lamb.

March 30, 2015

Cow C-section

On Friday night I went with Bob to the vet clinic to watch him perform a c-section on a cow. Often these procedures are done in the field, but this cow was brought to the clinic and able to walk into the squeeze chute.

This was a recipient or "recip" cow that was carrying an embryo transfer calf. The calf, which will hopefully win in the show ring one day, weighed more than 100 pounds and not able to be delivered naturally.

Many C-sections are performed with the cow standing. An epidural (a nerve block of her perineal region) prior to surgery reduces the amount of straining. Local blocks are also used to numb the surgery area.

A large incision is made into the abdomen so that one horn of the uterus can be brought to the outside. The uterus is carefully incised and the calf is delivered. The uterus is then closed, the area is rinsed with sterile fluids, and the abdominal incision is closed.

About 90 minues after the cow arrived she and the big calf both walked out to the trailer and went home.

You can read more about Cesarean Section in Cattle here:

Big calf. Bob is sewing up the cow.

Hello, World.

March 25, 2015

Fixing a Leaking Water Line

A few months ago I noticed an uptick in water usage on our sheep farm. I figured it was due to a bigger flock or more water use in the shop. My mistake. By last month the volume was alarming, so I alerted Bob (who can now monitor and pay the utility bill).

He called the plumber who determined that the oldest water line behind the barn was leaking. In my defense, there weren't unusual puddles behind the barn. We have been droughty the past few years, so any extra water just soaked in or ran underground to the alfalfa field, pasture, and pond.

Workers came this week with a backhoe to dig out the line and install new hydrants in the barn. Pricey problem.


March 17, 2015

Selling sheep and treating cows

Bob is pulling late nights and early mornings as spring approaches and calving season is in full swing. Cow c-sections at midnight and 3:00 a.m. will make a man tired. If he gets a live calf and healthy cow at the end he's happy.

On Saturday we loaded up the remaining 21 market lambs and took them to the livestock auction in Colfax, Iowa. They averaged 135 pounds and brought $1.38 a pound. Light lambs were bringing over $2.00 a pound for the "Easter market." Even tiny bottle lambs were selling high.

March 9, 2015

Salvaged Farm Feeder

Bob finished one of his winter projects in time for lambing season. This is a sheep feeder with slots for 16 animals at a time. The bottom is the top of an old gas barrel. The bands were around Grandpa's old brick silo. I think the rest of it is made from old wagon wheel spokes. The pink carpet was from Caroline's college dorm. (If you leave things at home they often end up in the shop.) The feeder is painted crap green because that color was on sale.


March 3, 2015

Farm Rent Issues

A week ago, the farmer who rents our 365 acres called to say he had to drop the rent by $45 an acre. Corn and soybean prices have tumbled in the past year, while farm input prices have continued to rise.

Under Iowa law, farm lease modifications must be served by September 1 of the prior year. If notice is not served, the lease continues for another crop year upon the same conditions as the original lease.

I immediately emailed Roger McEowen, professor of Agricultural Law at Iowa State University, who sent this advice:

     It's really up to you as the landlord as to whether you want to renegotiate with your tenant. If you have an oral lease, the lease will continue for another year on the same terms and conditions. If you think it's a matter of the tenant being able to remain financially stable by reducing the rent, then it might be the thing to do. If the tenant has been good, you may want to consider that as a plus as opposed to getting someone new. But, on the law, the rent stays the same for another year unless you both (tenant and landlord) agree to reduce it. If you think you need a lawyer to assist you in renegotiating a new lease, let me know and I will see if I can get someone to assist you.

Bob made a few calls to other local farmers and over the next few days had kitchen-table and pick-up-truck meetings with them about renting the farm. In the end, we were able to renegotiate the lease with our tenant. It was a learning experience that is happening all over the Midwest this spring as land and commodity prices continue to fall and cash rents come due.

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