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 29, 2016

Shearing Sheep

We sheared the sheep last week and I captured live video for Living the Country Life on Facebook. Check it out below.

The video has more than 23,000 views and hundreds of comments. A few people thought the sheep were being harmed, but most had positive comments about the skill of the shearer, who is a former world champion.

The ewes are due to lamb soon, and were glad to be rid of their winter coat.

Stay tuned for live video of our new lambs in April!

Warm temps, sunshine, and shorn fleece make happy sheep.

Three bags full of wool. The price we receive covers the cost of shearing.

March 23, 2016

Spring Break!

I took Caroline to New York City for spring break. It's her senior year of college, so a trip to the center of the art world was in order.

Caroline's favorite portrait, Madame X, by John Singer Sargent, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The National September 11 Memorial is a must-see. The museum, inside one of the former towers demolished by terrorists, is one of the most astounding experiences you will ever have. Every American should visit.

This huge new dinosaur skeleton was added to the American Museum of Natural History in January. The Titanosaur is 122 feet long and weighed about 70 tons. This is the closest I could get to it because the exhibit was closed to set up for a private function. (That stinks.)

This is the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District with New Jersey in the distance.

Inside the Whitney.

Our final night was at the Metropolitan Opera to see Madama Butterfly.

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March 11, 2016

Women in Ag

Successful Farming and Living the Country Life hosted a Women in Ag focus group at our office this week, and the discussion was lively and helpful. Many of the women write blogs about farm life, and know the challenges of communicating about agriculture. As Iowa farmer Alicia Schmitt put it, "Transparency in agriculture is not working as we hoped it would." People often misunderstand what happens on the farm. Why is the farmer pulling that calf with a chain? Why are you burning the horns off that goat? Why are you spraying those chemicals? Let's face it, there is no pretty way to handle downer cows.

Melissa O'Rourke, Iowa State University, told the group to put out positive images of agriculture and if people want to pick a fight, "There is nothing to be gained by engaging with them. Expend your positive energy on other people." See more advice at Ag Decision Maker.

Keep up with our Women in Ag bloggers:

Heather Barnes

Alicia Schmitt

Heather's little darling, Ben, enjoyed the meeting. They live on a farm in North Carolina.

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March 3, 2016

E Street Entertainment

Everyone needs a pick-me-up in these gloomy winter days, so I grabbed Caroline and drove to St. Paul, MN, to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. We stood in line with 1,200 others to try to get in the "pit," the enclosed area in front of the stage. There is a lottery to get in, and we made it! The show was sold out (arena holds 19,000), so it was a loud night. Bruce and the E Street Band played for more than 3 hours. There is no sitting in the pit, so your legs are rubber by the time you leave at close to midnight. It is so worth it.

Before the show started.

Bruce body-surfing the pit.

At 11:15 p.m., more than three hours after he started, Bruce was still going.

On a totally different topic, kudos to Sheep Industry News for my favorite headline. This was in the March 2016 issue.

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February 24, 2016

Remodeling is Fun. Right?

Bob and his business partner, Brian, have been expanding and remodeling the vet clinic for almost a year. Have you ever remodeled your house? It's that much fun. The work should be done in another month and the end result will be awesome. We may forget some of the pain.

Charlie, the clinic cat, oversees the movement of cat housing by Bob, right, and Brian.

This wash tub weighs a million pounds and needs to fit through the door.

The new kennels are wonderful. Lisa likes to help clients feel comfortable in their temporary homes.

We've all been there, right?

Nowlan and Daniella visit Bob at the new reception desk.

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February 16, 2016

Ride it Out

It was -7 F as we loaded the remaining 15 lambs from last year's crop. The sheep didn't mind the cold. It's that time of year when you just ride out winter until it gives up.

While at the livestock auction, we warmed up with a homemade bun.

The lambs averaged 160 pounds (that's too heavy for the top price) and brought $1.25 a pound.

We start lambing in April and I vow to sell everything before winter this year!


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February 11, 2016

Think Spring

February is the longest month. It's 8 degrees this morning and heading to -7 overnight. I've decided to cheer myself up by looking at photos from my yard last year. Try it! Spring is just around the corner...


February 1, 2016

Enjoying Winter!

The key to surviving until spring is to enjoy winter! We've had lots of traffic to our pond for ice fishing lately. Check out the big bass below, and some pretty winter scenes.

Rick Nelson caught this big bass on our pond.

The pond earlier this winter as the ice was starting to form.

Our red barn looks perfect on a snowy day.

Mom took this photo from her front porch in Maryland after Blizzard Jonas rolled through and dropped 2 feet of snow.

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January 26, 2016

Tool Time

Bob and I spent last week in Maryland celebrating birthdays and enjoying time with family and friends (the day after we left, the Jonas blizzard dumped 2 feet of snow on the farm). Dad's winter project is organizing and displaying his collection of antique tools. He turned an old shed into a mini museum.

Dad can tell visitors specifics on each tool and how it was used.

I took this photo of Dad with his favorite calendar on his 78th birthday. 

Dad found this book at an auction. I like the quote: "For successful farming, three conditions are necessary -- knowledge, capital and fondness for the pursuit." (Credit is given to Columella, a farmer and writer during the Roman empire.)

Mom was hard at work on Sunday directing the Moore's Chapel choir (I took this photo during rehearsal in the church basement). She's been the choir director for 50 years!

January 13, 2016

A trip to Africa

Caroline spent three weeks in Ghana, Africa, with Iowa State University over the holiday break. The small group of students studied Ghanaian indigenous arts and crafts, focusing on the production processes. They also visited historic landmarks and wildlife preserves. Below are a few of her photos with her descriptions. I think it is so important for young people to travel and see the world. I'm glad she chose this trip.

This is Cape Coast Castle, a slave castle on the coast of Ghana that has been there for around 500 years. The castle was a midway point for slaves to be held before getting on the boats for the Americas. The castle’s balcony looks out over the ocean and you can see fishing boats coming in and going out. The tour of the castle was very emotional; most of us stayed silent and respected the historical significance of the slave castle on society. The tour ended with everyone going out the “Door of no return” to the ocean. On the other side, the fishing village is full of life. People are patching netting, getting ready to push out, and bringing in the day's catch.

Today, we went to the Kente Village of Adanwomase. Kente is a royal and sacred cloth made of interwoven strips of cotton and silk fabric. We were told of kente's rich history in Ghana and given demonstrations of processes to start a weave. We toured their workshops where there were many looms and men working. They were so fast, and the sound of the shuttles was entrancing. Our guides taught us how to properly wear the kente cloth.

This is the Kumasi Central Market, the largest open-air market in all of west Africa. To make sure we didn't get lost in the carnage of people, a guide took us through the stalls. From a balcony, the market is a sea of rooftops to the edge of the horizon. It is divided into sections: fabrics, beads, foods, spices, and others (including voodoo items). We wove through the narrow lanes, between people carrying their purchases on their heads, and around a medley of aromas we were told not to mention.

[A week after they visited, the Kumasi market suffered a fire that burned about 400 shops. The yam-sellers portion of the market was the most affected.]

Dancing was a part of most visits to the villages in Ghana.

Caroline's post on December 25:

Merry Christmas from Ghana. I got attacked by a baboon! No injuries, but I lost my biscuits. After a lunch of pineapple, watermelon, and carrot soup, we were meandering back to our hotel room when a baboon came out of nowhere and ran straight for us. We all decided the safest thing to do was run back into the fenced area, but the barbed wire proved to be of little use against a hungry baboon. He jumped right between the wires and continued to run straight for us. At this point I went into primal mode and ditched the other girls and started to run for myself. Blindly running, I did not realize the baboon was coming after me the whole time. I felt a hard tug on the black bag I was carrying that had a package of biscuits. The baboon snatched up the package, shoved it in its mouth, and ran off into the bush. At this moment I realized, after years of working with animals on my parent's farm, I still didn't know everything, such as what to do when a baboon is chasing me. Lesson learned firsthand.

Even so, I did get to enjoy Christmas morning sitting by the poolside reading a book Grandma gave me for Christmas. Everyone joined (even some warthogs), and soaked up some Ghanian sun before our afternoon safari walk.

Mole National Park is the largest wildlife sanctuary in Ghana, and one of the best places anywhere in West Africa for game viewing. The park has two man-made “dumps” where there is water year-round, even during the dry season (October-March). This allows the animals to have access to water, and means they can be found by guides. Our guide led us down the steep hillside behind the motel into the savanna below. We walked for half and hour before we found a herd of five elephants (four large males and one small male). The elephants were so large and majestic, walking through the trees so graciously, hardly making a sound. It was really a spectacular Christmas, and I hope my family had a very Merry Christmas as well!

Caroline managed to find a pig farm in Ghana (she did not bring the shoes she was wearing back to the U.S.). These little guys look fairly modern.

Back home in our kitchen safe and sound.


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