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

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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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.