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, 2014

Cleaning out Grandpa's acreage

Bob's dad moved to a retirement community this spring and sold the acreage where he raised his family. These moves are always difficult, both emotionally and physically. The big house and garage had lots of "stuff" to haul, and then there were the three barns/sheds. Bob's trailer got much use going back and forth to the scrapyard and dump.

Some things were too good to toss. These old boards and windows were from another old house Bob tore down when he was a teenager and stored in the barn. Caroline is going to use some of the boards in a woodworking class at college. She may turn the windows into art, too.

Maybe we should have called American Pickers.

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April 29, 2014

Growing fast!

Everything at our place is growing lickety split now -- the lambs, the oats, and the garden. I'm harvesting asparagus each night. The potato plants have popped out of the ground. The tulips are almost ready to bloom. We are getting much needed rain and the tornadoes are staying south of us.

Nowlan and Danny planting the last of my garden.

This shirt was designed by the Indianola Vet Clinic staff for Girl's Night Out on the town square. The quote is Bob's favorite about the busy spring calving season. OB stands for obstetrics.

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April 24, 2014

The gang's all here

My oldest, Nowlan, and his wife, Daniella, are visiting this week, so we put them to work. Besides barn chores, the kids are helping to clean Grandpa's acreage.

Baby lambs, bonfires, visits with friends, good conversation -- a nice spring vacation!

A pile of sleepy lambs.

Warren, Nowlan, Danny, Caroline, and friend John Nagel at their favorite restaurant, ADong.


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April 21, 2014

End of the lambing season, thank goodness

At midnight last night, as Bob was doing c-section surgery on the fourth ewe this month with Warren's assist, we all decided the lambing season for 2014 was a bit of a bust. We had a rash of ewes that were "non-dilators," meaning their cervix never dilated enough to let the lambs be born naturally. It could be genetics, but Bob says the cause is uncertain. We also had several vaginal prolapses.

We are getting new rams this fall and Bob says he's breeding "speckle-faced" (crossbred) ewe lambs now, not purebred Dorsets. A good set of twins beats triplets and quads most days.

One of several bottle lambs. This little guy is the runt of triplets.

Wrapping up a c-section at midnight. Both lambs and the mom are fine this morning.

April 18, 2014

Filming a birth

We captured some nice video last night, mainly by chance. David Ekstrom, a video producer for Living the Country Life and Successful Farming, came down to our farm to take video of our lambs. Two of the final six ewes yet to give birth decided to go into labor while David was there. He filmed Bob pulling a lamb, milking the ewe, and tubing lambs. Sweet.

We also tagged some lambs, gave vaccinations, banded tails, and trimmed hooves. Look for David's videos on next week.

April 15, 2014

Sowing oats (not wild)

We had torrents of rain over the weekend, but not before Bob sowed the oats (cultivated, not wild) and tilled my garden. YAY. We needed the rain.

I planted carrots, endive, and spinach. (It might be too early for spinach.) This weekend I am planting potatoes and onions.

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April 10, 2014

The harsh reality of raising livestock

When I got home from work last night, my husband, Bob, and son, Warren, were heading to the barn with grim expressions. A ewe was down behind the barn. She was hugely pregnant and lying on her side, moaning and straining. This was no normal labor. I can't exaggerate the distension of her body.

Bob, who is a veterinarian, prepped for an immediate c-section. One, two, three, four big lambs, all healthy, were pulled from her uterus. I cleaned off the lambs while Bob euthanized the ewe. She had ruptured her abdominal cavity hours before. Carrying quads of that size to term was too much.

We got the lambs under a heat lamb and used a stomach tube to fill their bellies with colostrum mixed from a powder. I tried to teach them how to suck a bottle.

Bob sees these kinds of things daily in his job as a vet. I am more traumatized by them. I couldn't fall asleep last night, thinking of that good ewe. We raise all of our ewes, so she had been in our herd her whole life. She was certainly one of our best ewes, carrying big quads who were kicking and squirming to be born.

Now I have four bottle lambs. We may sell them on Saturday at the local livestock auction.

You don't know what is involved in raising livestock until you do it. Just like giving birth, I guess.

Three males and one female in this set of orphaned quads.

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April 8, 2014

Compost It

The work around our small farm this time of year may look nasty and smell nasty, but it's all good. Actually, I was standing on the top of the compost pile to take some of the photos and the smell was mild. Once that stuff cooks for a year it's no different that the bagged compost you find at the garden store. Our fields love it.

April 4, 2014

New baby lambs!

Lambing is underway at our place this week. So far so good, although Bob did have to perform a c-section on one young ewe. She accepted the babies after the surgery, which is always the tricky part. We have several sets of triplets already, including this cute set. That ewe did not take her eyes off me the whole time I was in the barn.

April 2, 2014

Step by Step

I had a good visit with my parents last week, as Dad continues to recover from a fall. He and Mom take daily walks up and down the lane. (Read more about Dad's farm shop brain injury here.)

It snowed twice while I was there, the last time as I drove to the airport. But the daffodils at the end of the lane are up, so spring will march forward.

Dad gets a haircut in Oxford, PA. Love those small-town barber shops, Bill (the barber) came to the farm to cut Dad's hair twice this winter.

Pets are great stress relief for caregivers. Mom and Maisie.

I met Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, in an Oxford, PA, bookstore. That is one of my favorite books and movies, so it was a pleasant surprise. Turns out he lives just a few miles from Dad.

New life at the end of the lane.


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