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

January 27, 2014

Propane heat

Mom has a gas fireplace that creates the perfect cozy spot to read on a cold evening. I enjoyed the warmth on my visit there last week. The open flame gives that fireplace feel without messing with firewood.

The only problem with this fireplace is the propane -- sky high and in limited supply this winter. Bob turned the propane off in our farm shop and is using an electric heater. We don't want to have to fill that tank.

The propane situation is serious for farmers. Supply shortages, spiking prices, and extreme winter weather are combining to threaten livestock in the hardest-hit areas. See a story about the situation here:

In Iowa last night the wind was blowing 50 mph and the temperature dropped 40 degrees in 5 hours to below zero. That's hard on livestock.

Stay warm!

Mom's cozy living room.

  • Tags:
January 23, 2014

A long journey

I've returned from an unexpected trip to my parent's farm in Maryland. Dad fell in his shop last week, bashing his face on the concrete floor and causing a brain bleed. He spent three days in intensive care and three days in the trauma ward before being moved to a neurological rehabilitation hospital where he will spend the next few weeks.

Multiple tests could not pinpoint the cause of his fall. It wasn't a stroke, seizure, or aneurysm. He had been digging around under his workbench sorting metal before the fall, so it's possible he was lightheaded when he stood up and then blacked out. We will never know.

Also unknown is his long-term prognosis. He is thinking straight about many things, but is mixed up and confused about others. Brain injuries are unpredictable. We are trying to stay in the moment, day by day and not worry about what will happen in a month or a year. Positive thoughts!

I took this photo of Dad last year in his shop.

Dad's shop is on the left. Winter storm Janus dumped almost a foot of snow on the farm Tuesday.


  • Tags:
January 14, 2014

Heavens to Betsy Quilt

Mom gave me this quilt as a combined Christmas/30th wedding anniversary gift. It was made by her friend Linda Brammer of Elkton, Maryland, and is called Heavens to Betsy. The photo doesn't do it justice (Bob was holding up the quilt last night in low light). I know very little about quilting, but even I can tell the workmanship is exquisite.

Do you quilt? I would love to share some of your work here. Send photos of your quilts to:

January 8, 2014

Vanity pig plates

Caroline's boyfriend, John, gave her vanity plates for Christmas. They go on the old, rusty, white minivan we make her drive, which needed a little boost of decoration. The plates mean "I Like Pigs" not "I Lick Pigs," as some have suggested. Either way, LOL.

  • Tags:
January 6, 2014

Ideas for Staying Warm

It was -13 at our Iowa farm this morning, with the wind blowing. Nice. I am grateful we replaced our front door last summer. In the past we had to tape it shut for days like this.

The sheep don't seem to mind this cold. They snuggle down in the barn, and a few even sleep outside on the south side of the barn. WOOL.

How are you staying warm this cruel month of January? Here are some ideas from the Living the Country Life Facebook page.

Cindi Kalla Lesnick The chicken is in the bathtub.....LOL (She's 12 yrs old so she is spoiled beyond reason) She's been inside since it started getting cold.

Nicoele Arseneau All in barn with heat lamps and lots of hay. Here in central IL, our wind chill is currently -45°!

Tina Brigance Ayers My dog is in the house, in my bed and under the covers.

Linda Corbus We use heat lamps in our coop for our chickens and turkeys and we also have feral kitties running around and they have a heat lamp as well with beds in the garage.

Marilyn Norfleet Electric watering systems to keep water from freezing, tarps to block the wind, lots of feed and hay. We have two cows in a small barn, three goats in another barn, chickens in their coop, and the sheep I think like it, haha.

Helen Dunlap The dogs are inside with me, the alpacas love this cold weather, they roll around in the snow (they also have a nice barn) and the chickens have an extra heat lamp in the coop.

Viktorija Briggs The chickens have a (very expensive, but worth it) insulated dog house w/ a door that I close every night. This little house is placed inside one side of a small brick building - you have to turn right and then left to get into the tiny room. It perfectly keeps out wind, snow, etc., and the insulated little house keeps them toasty at night. All the other animals are in the house: 4 dogs, 1 rabbit, 1 Macaw, and 1 Pot Belly Pig. We're all snug as a bug in a rug!

Shannon Engelhardt We allowed the goats to get in our chicken coop with the heat lamp.. It's a full size split barn.. Plenty of room. And I'm going out every so often to break ice.. oh and we put extra bedding down all around.

Sherrie Dawn Orr Hale I spread straw all over the chicken yard and put a heater in the coop where our pygmy goat, chickens and guinea birds have spent the worst of it. When they got cabin fever, the straw path got larger. So far only one little spot of frost bite on my roosters comb.




  • Tags:
December 30, 2013


I spent Christmas in Germany visiting son Nowlan and his wife, Danny. We traveled from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Bavaria, and back to Frankfurt. It was a fabulous trip! I recommend Germany if you have a mind to travel. It's clean, the trains run on time, the people speak English fairly well, and the landscape varies. Here are some photos from the trip.

Heidelberg castle and town. You must go there some day.

Nowlan looking out from the ancient castle.

We went to the famous Christmas markets in three cities. This was Stuttgart. Hot mulled wine (gluhwein) is so good.

Trout on a Stick in Stuttgart was my favorite meal.


Nowlan and I at Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, near the border of Austria.

View from the castle.

Inside the Theatiner Kirche Catholic church in Munich. Nowlan and I attended Christmas morning mass at the nearby Frauenkirche church, a larger and older, but less ornate church.

You do a lot of this in Germany.

  • Tags:
December 17, 2013

Wrapping up 2013 in wool

We sent the last 20 market lambs to auction on Saturday. They averaged 130 pounds and brought $1.58 a pound. That's double what lambs brought last year (which was a disaster). Our sheep were extremely healthy all year. We lost one lamb to coyotes, but that is nine less than the year before.

There are 79,500 sheep operations in the U.S., according to the USDA, making it the second largest livestock industry (based on number of operations) in the U.S., says Jeff Held, South Dakota State University Extension Sheep Specialist. We are happy to be a part!

Here are our ewes on a snowy day last week.

December 16, 2013

Funny Family Stories

I hosted a Christmas dinner for family on Sunday. What fun. The best part of any family gathering is storytelling around the kitchen table. Here are two of my favorites.

The Missing Roasting Pan

When Bob's family moved to their acreage almost 40 years ago, it was a speedy move. A truck pulled up to their house in town and they hurriedly loaded everything on it. Bob's mom never could find the roaster after that. It must have been lost in the move. A few years later, Bob found the roasting pan -- still in the old oven in a shed. The chicken that had been cooking when the truck arrived was still in the roaster. Bob said it looked like a dinosaur skeleton.

Your Battery is Low

My mom got into her minivan one day last summer and heard a woman's voice say, "Your battery is low." She was amazed that her old van had an electronic voice alert, but she took the van to the nearby auto mechanic and asked him to replace the battery, which was the original. He did, and also inspected her tires, which were worn. He replaced them, too.

That evening, Mom got in the van to go to my sister's house and heard the voice say, again, "Your battery is low." She could not understand why her battery was still low after being replaced, but told my sister, "At least I feel safe knowing it will tell me when something is wrong."

The next morning, my sister got in Mom's van to load luggage for a trip. She heard a voice say, "Your battery is low." That's when she realized she had left her Bluetooth on the visor from driving the van earlier that week.

Dad was peeved the device cost him a new car battery and four new tires.

Here is an old postcard from 1906 I found in Mom's attic.

  • Tags:
December 11, 2013

New calf

Bob had to do a c-section on this show heifer -- she had a huge calf! The weather has been so brutally cold, he kept the cow and calf at the clinic overnight. Dr. Brennan tried to milk the cow, but she was practically dry. He mixed up milk replacer and gave the calf a stomachful. Mom and baby went home healthy!