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

December 1, 2015

Getting Ready for Christmas

Caroline helped me string lights on the fence around the grove. It takes many, many strands. Most are in knots, even though I bundle them carefully after Christmas. A few strands are burned out each year, so I buy a few more. The lights are a welcome sight for me coming home from work in the dark.

Next job on the list: Cut the tree. Caroline did all the work, sawing and hauling. The tree farm is next door, so we get the fresh tree in the stand within 20 minutes of cutting it.

The tree looks simple and lovely. We decided to just decorate with a single, long string of lights this year. Our two young (half-wild) cats scattered ornaments across the living room last year.

Here is Mickey, waiting for his plate at Thanksgiving.

My favoritie holiday habitat.


November 23, 2015

Cold Weather Flocking

It sounded like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. The morning before a winter storm blew in and dumped 4 inches of snow on our Iowa farm (a foot of snow in northern Iowa), blackbirds swarmed our place, moving from tree to tree. The racket was incredible and the droppings in the barnyard thick after they left.

Bob has been working cattle, vaccinating calves, pregnancy checking cows. He took these two photos. The first shows Wayne Hunerdosse, 90, in the center. He still helps move cattle through the chute on his farm by Medora, Iowa.

Below, farm dog Bennett keeps an eye on each calf coming through the chute for fall vaccinations.


November 18, 2015

Fall Festivities

Caroline came home from college to help me with the annual brunch and bingo to benefit Des Moines Metro Opera. It was a sold-out crowd and great fun. Our small Indianola guild raised more than $5,000 for the opera.

A few of my friends and family at the event.

This is not an endorsement. I'm not sure who I will support in the Iowa caucus from either party (I am a moderate and change parties now and then), but I try to see every candidate who visits our town. This time it was Bernie Sanders. He promised free college for all, which made the students in the crowd happy.

Bob hasn't made up his mind about the Iowa Caucus candidates, either. He listens to talk radio while fixing the old hay rake.

This newborn Zebu calf was in the hot box at the vet clinic.

"Hello, ladies." We turned the rams out with the ewes. Lambs due in April.

We've had such a mild fall I didn't pick the last of my tomatoes until this week. I guess I need to find a recipe for fried green tomatoes.

I just finished a three-year term on the public library friends board. Great group of people. Libraries are changing rapidly as technology changes. Keep reading!

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November 10, 2015

Storing up for winter

Bob is washing all the farm equipment and storing it in the big machine shed on our crop farm for winter. He has to drive the tractors down a stretch of the four-lane highway leading to Des Moines and I try to follow him closely with my hazard lights blinking. Commuters can be so rude and dangerous to farmers in slow-moving equipment.

That time you washed the manure spreader without a mask. And then wanted a ride in my car.

A bin-busting corn crop at the local co-op.

Soybeans on our farm near Middle River. These pods are on high ground, but some of the bottom acres flooded when the river went out of its banks last summer. USDA numbers show Iowa farmers smashed the soybean production record this year. The harvest of nearly 550 million bushels will beat 2005 by 25 million bu. Average yields were 56 bu/acre.

Caroline took this photo of a leucistic squirrel on the Iowa State University campus. It's not an albino squirrel, which would be entirely white with pink eyes. This one just has rare white fur.

I attended a swine disease seminar at Iowa State University. Here are my exciting updates on pig health!

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November 4, 2015

A welcome visit

Mom flew out to Iowa from Maryland last weekend and we had a wonderful four days visiting family and friends. Many thanks to Lee O'Brien who arranged the trip and flew with Mom both ways.

Mom and Caroline got a hug from the Iowa State University mascot, Cy. It was homecoming weekend on campus. The weather was beautiful and the Cyclones upset Texas.

Caroline showed Bob and Mom the ISU woodworking lab.

More projects in the ISU design college.

Caroline was passing out bags of Skittles with a photo of her self-portrait, made of 20,000 Skittles, for Halloween.

I spotted this awesome sculpture on a shelf. Have you ever felt like this?

We enjoyed an early morning stop at the Des Moines Farmers Market and a visit with Dean and Judy Henry of Berry Patch Farm.

My mom, Ruth Ann, is called Ruthie by some friends, so we stopped by the Exile Brewery. Good beer, by the way. Naughty Ruthie.

We also had wonderful, long talks with family and friends during Mom's visit. Those stay in the memory and heart forever.

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October 27, 2015

A day at the livestock auction

Bob and I took a load of 23 lambs to Colfax (IA) Livestock Sales last Saturday. The barns were as full as I've seen them in months. Lots of sheep and goats are going to market for the holiday season.

Our lambs averaged 135 pounds and brought $1.51 a pound.

Before touring the barns, one must eat breakfast. We started with homemade black raspberry pie.

It was 10:00, so we will call this brunch. Hey, we were up at dawn to weigh and sort lambs!

The Colfax police were checking for cattle rustlers. Actually, this "Mayberry" car was heading to a parade.

Time to walk the barn and see what's for sale today.

It's unusual to see pigs at the auction anymore. These are probably culls from a show-pig farm. Many were heavily muscled.

Nice horns.

Our lambs heading out of the sale ring. We have 17 more left at home.


October 20, 2015

Loading Up, Heading Out

We marketed our first lambs of 2015 last week, taking five to the Indianola locker and 24 to Colfax Livestock Sales Co. The lambs were born in April and grew quickly. The Colfax lot averaged 138 pounds and brought $1.55 a pound. Bob is taking another trailer load on Saturday.

For the first three weeks in October we had zero rain, so conditions have been perfect for harvest in Iowa. Bob is spreading the old compost piles on the pasture for fertilizer. It's so seasoned it barely smells. He's now building new piles with old bedding from the barn.

Loading the trailer at dawn.

A few of the April lambs weighed 150+ pounds. That's fast growth.

This is not dirt.

Hauling fertilizer to the pasture.

Cheryl Tevis (right) retired last week after 36 years at Successful Farming magazine. No editor has produced more pages of copy for the magazine in its 113-year history. I have worked with Cheryl for 31 years and will miss her. I know she has many projects back on the home farm in central Iowa. Congratulations, Cheryl!

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October 12, 2015

Brilliant Autumn

A walk down the lane and around the pasture brings great peace and beauty in the fall.

The ewes line up in the morning sun to see who is invading their pasture.

The pond is full and healthy.

Back at the house, Bob has lined up his hay equipment for one last run. He heard a drought was predicted for the Midwest next summer, so figured more hay was needed.

A basket of beautiful alfalfa. We squeezed two of these loads into the barn.

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October 5, 2015

Enjoying Fall

A splash of color in the front yard is such a cheerful greeting. Fall colors are really starting to pop.

Bob uses an apple peeler to make thin layers for apple crisp. So many apples this year...

Janis Gandy, copy editor for Living the Country Life, made a dozen table decorations like this one for Dan Looker's retirement party. Dan was the business editor of Successful Farming. I provided the hay peeking out at the bottom.

One of our rams has a bad foot. Bob gives him a pedicure with the grinder.

Bob took this photo of an English bulldog who knows exactly where to sit on the ATV.

Hedge apples are ripe.

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September 29, 2015

All things pork and more

Every fall for the past 21 years I have released an exclusive report on the swine industry called Pork Powerhouses. It includes a ranking of the largest 25 pork producers in the U.S. To celebrate the release of the report I flew to North Carolina and ate a tray of barbeque.

Actually, Bob and I were visiting our oldest son, Nowlan and his wife, Daniella. Here are some photos.

The pulled pork (bottom center) at The Smoke Pit in Concord, NC, was the best I've ever had. Also included on the tray are fried okra, mac and cheese, cornbread, cole slaw, ribs, chicken, and brisket.

We enjoyed a lively discussion of agriculture and genomics with pork industry guru Randy Stoecker (center).

Nowlan (with Daniella, right) showed us around his research campus in Kannapolis, NC.

Nowlan has a National Science Foundation grant to study the modulation of alternative splicing by methylation in salt-stressed rice.

Nowlan and Bob visited The Intimidator, a likeness of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who was born in Kannapolis.

We toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte because it seemed appropriate for a trip to the area. It was great fun, and I recommend the museum. Here Bob, Daniella, and Nowlan are practicing their driving skills. Next, we all got in race cars and raced (with simulators). It seemed quite real when I crashed into the wall.

There was even a car in the gift shop that tied back nicely to my Pork Powerhouses report.


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