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.

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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February 23, 2015

4-H Leaders

I've been thinking about 4-H, as two people from my 4-H years died last week.

Edith Kilby was my 4-H leader in Calvert, Maryland. She encouraged me to enter demonstration and speech contests and required all members to keep detailed record books. The photo below shows Mrs. Kilby on the right and Mom on the left after I was crowned the county fair queen.

Mrs. Kilby was a dairy farmer, a teacher, a writer, an artist and much more. She lived to be 97. You can read more about her wonderful life here.

Sadly, a 4-H friend died last week. Ned Sayre was only 53. He owned Waffle Hill Farm in Churchville, Maryland. The newspaper clipping below shows Ned, my friend Tona, and me at the old Esskay pork slaughtering plant in Baltimore. We were learning how sausages were made (you don't want to know). I can still smell that scrapple room.

Ned was always blasting music from a boom box in his cattle show pen at the Maryland State Fair. I asked him about one song, Rosalita. "You don't know who Bruce Springsteen is?" he exclaimed. He was shocked. I went home, bought two albums, and got hooked on the Boss. Thank you, Ned. You can read more about Ned's life here.

February 12, 2015

If You Give a Vet a Smart Phone

Bob finally got a smart phone, chucking his ancient flip phone that couldn't text or take pictures. Now he's documenting in photos every client call and move I make around the acreage. Good grief.

Thank goodness he's not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any social media.

"What I do with these photos?" he asked the other night. So I downloaded them for my blog. I'm actually excited about seeing what he'll come up with this year. A veterinarian sees some interesting things. I will have to cull the gross for you, dear readers. Here's a start.

This outstanding Hereford came to the vet clinic for papers and tests before a big cattle show.

This hen didn't mind the snow. Bob says she was playing tic-tac-toe in the fence shadows.

Our kitten Mickey loves to rest with Bob's old Howdy Doody Texaco doll.

Here's the problem. Bob sneaks up behind me with his darn new phone and takes photos of me in my robe taking early-morning photos for my blog. This could get annoying when I'm gardening.


February 2, 2015

Winter Fun

If it's going to be cold, I want snow on the ground. I got my wish with 11 inches.

My amaryllis finally bloomed, so I took it outside for a minute. What a cheery flower on the kitchen windowsill.

Bob only likes snow if he is skiing, so chores in this weather are truly a chore. The ewes don't seem to mind the cold weather. They have a warm barn bedded down with hay.

Here are a few fun photos from the past week.

Caroline's self-portrait is hanging in the Memorial Union at Iowa State University this semester. Check out more of her art here:

I met Donald Trump at a land meeting in Des Moines. He was hinting about running for office while promoting The Apprentice and telling Mitt Romney: You're Fired! Peoples Company, the meeting sponsor, gave Trump an acre of Iowa farmland. What should he plant?

Iowa farmer Chris Soules, The Bachelor on ABC, visited our office Feb 3 to talk about farming. He didn't spill the (soy) beans about his choice for wife.


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January 26, 2015

The Bachelor Farmer

I ran into The Bachelor last week at a land expo in Des Moines. Chris Soules, a farmer from Arlington, Iowa, is on the popular ABC show (Monday nights). I'm giving the show a try just because this guy is a real farmer (and really handsome). Honestly, the show makes me cringe. Last week the girls were chasing pigs and milking a goat. Chris says this isn't something they do on his farm. Hollywood.

I hope he finds a wife. If not, I have nieces who can drive a tractor.

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January 21, 2015

Saving Soil (and Water)

Bob and I were back on the home farm in Maryland last week to celebrate Dad's birthday and help a little here and there. For his birthday, Dad wanted us all to attend the Cecil County Soil Conservation annual banquet. It was a yummy dinner of crab cakes and prime rib, enjoyed by a sold-out crowd of 250 farmers and agribusiness people.

The best part of the evening was the showcase of conservation projects completed and underway on farms in the county. Maryland farmers are under a microscope to keep water clean for the Chesapeake Bay. Dad has been using terraces, cover crops, and no-till on his fruit farm for decades. He was honored as the county conservation farmer in 1983. It's been his life-long passion to farm responsibly, respecting soil and water.

Iowa, where I live now, is starting to deal with water quality issues as tile lines run black topsoil to the river. Many farmers and farm groups are on the defensive, but others are embracing cover crops and more. Let's keep it going.

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January 6, 2015

Amaryllis Bulb, Waiting for Spring

A winter storm blew in yesterday, typical for January in Iowa. Tonight it will drop to 11 below zero, says the weather service. Ugh.

I took this photo looking south from my library. I planted the amaryllis bulb from Longfield on November 17 and it is finally shooting up.

Here are tips on forcing amaryllis bulbs:
1. Fill the container ¾ full with potting soil.
2. Place the bulb in the potting soil and cover with potting soil. Make sure to leave the tip of the bulb exposed. For amaryllis, there should be one bulb for a 6-inch pot. Cover with decorative moss (optional).
3.  Water so that the soil is moist. Do not over-water. Place container in a sunny location in your home.

When growing bulbs indoors, choose a location that receives proper sun requirements. For example, full sun is 6 hours of filtered sunlight per day. Avoid cold drafts or hot, forced air near radiators or heaters.

On the Facebook page for Living the Country Life, I posted a photo of lilacs from my backyard last May and posed the question: "Should we just skip ahead to spring?" So far, the 1,600 comments were leaning yes, although some readers enjoy winter. What is certain -- you love lilacs. More than 23,000 people liked the photo.

December 29, 2014

Favorite animals

Readers of Living the Country Life love cute animals. How can you resist? Here are a few favorites in the past week or two.

Facebook fan Jennifer Ford shared this photo of 13 new piglets born on Christmas.

I gave this stuffed sheep to Bob for Christmas. Here's the manufacturer:

I found this old photo while cleaning out files. My friend Lisa Prater doctored it up for me.

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