Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is the editor-in-chief of Living the Country Life and executive editor of 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.

June 7, 2013

Top 5 issues for pork producers

World Pork Expo celebrated its 25th anniversary this week and I've been to every one. Why stop now? I had a good time at the Iowa State Fairgrounds talking to producers, hearing the news, and eating ribs, sausage, bacon, and more.

The Top 5 Hog Issues, according to producers in the trenches:

1. New porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED). First diagnosed this spring, one Midwest producer lost 18,000 pigs in four days to the disease. Scientists are swarming the issue and hope to have a vaccine soon, but so far they don't know how the virus is spreading. Hog farms are on virtual lockdown. (This virus does not affect humans.)

2. Corn crop. Will there be enough corn? Spring was late and wet. Sam Carney is a happy Iowa pork producer. He planted around the clock and got his crops in by Memorial Day. "We ran hard."

3. Crate regulations. Gestation stalls are being banned in some states. Are the largest producers going to make the switch to pens? Smithfield is converting farms, but most of the other Pork Powerhouses are not ready to move away from crates.

4. Chinese company buying Smithfield Foods. China's largest meat processor is acquiring the U.S.'s largest hog farmer and processor. What do U.S. pork producers think? I heard everything from, "It will be good for our export market" to "This could be a food safety nightmare." Most producers fell into this camp: "It's business as usual for us."

5. Trade. Trade is always an issue for the hog industry. Everyone hopes the export markets stay strong and countries do not ban our pork for one reason or another.

June 4, 2013

Summer break!

We don't have an ocean in Iowa, but we make do.

Enjoy your summer -- find some time to relax!


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May 30, 2013

Coyote trouble (graphic content)

Between noon and 6 p.m. yesterday, a coyote slipped under the fence of the corral behind our barn and killed a lamb. Bob had fed the lambs on his lunch break and nothing was amiss. By suppertime he was greeted with the carcass below. I'm posting the photos because they show how a coyote kills, versus a dog. We had dogs attack our sheep in the past. They rip at the sheep from behind, tearing legs and udders. Coyotes kill at the neck (notice the bite wounds and neck trauma) and then tear out the organs. This coyote even left a clear paw print in the mud. The coin is a quarter.

The question now is, what do we do about this? We were just ready to send the ewes and lambs to pasture. With coyotes hungry enough and brave enough to come into the barn lot, the pasture would become a killing field.

I posted the question on social media last night. We can't shoot the varmints because we live in the town limits where that's illegal. A friend has good luck with mini donkeys for guard animals. Bob doesn't want to mess with donkeys. He says he's selling the herd. He might get grass calves.

Stupid coyotes.

Track of a coyote, with quarter for size.

Bite marks

May 29, 2013

Iris time

I say the most beautiful flower on earth is the iris. It's scent and colors and poise are not to be beat. Best of all, the flowers come up year after year without any fuss. My irises have been gracing the south side of my house for more than 30 years; we don't really know when they were planted.

When the irises are in bloom, I spend every evening I can reading in the backyard. There is a two-day window where my lilacs are still blooming on one side of my lawn chair and the first irises are popping on the other. 7 p.m., you will find me there. Heaven.

May 28, 2013

Lego barn

It rained all weekend, so Caroline cleaned the attic. She found the tub of old Legos. Construction on our barn started at noon and went until midnight, maybe later. I found the final result in the dining room this morning. Nice touch on the hay elevator. I like the boat (right); it's flooding in Iowa, so we may need it. As for the palm tree -- she was using material at hand, so adjustments were made. I wonder if she can enter this in her portfolio for the design college application?

May 24, 2013

Spring wedding

The warm glow from Nowlan and Daniella's wedding still resides, so here are more photos.

The walk down the aisle after the vows is always my favorite part of every wedding.

The couple chose to serve 10 flavors of cheesecakes instead of traditional wedding cake. It was a huge hit!

Even if spring is late and the vines have no green, a photo in the arbor is still nice.

The best part about the wedding: We added a whole new family to our family. Wonderful.

May 21, 2013

After the storms

Tiny tornadoes danced around central Iowa the past few days, dipping and twirling, but not killing. We spent Sunday evening in the basement as the worst of the storms went by. At every break in the rain, a cardinal flew down to the garage roof and called for his mate. His song was so strident Caroline thought help was needed outside. "Is Dad whistling for me?"

In Oklahoma the storms were killing machines. I am horrified by the destruction.

Bob says he is cleaning out the cupboard under the basement stairs and installing a sturdy door. That would be the safest place in our house. He also wants to replace the old door on the storm cellar (see photo).

Stay safe.

May 17, 2013

Pond is recovering

During the drought last year, the water level in our pond dropped by several feet. Some ponds in our area dried up completely.

But after winter snows and spring rains, our pond is back to normal and the overflow pipe running. My cousin Kurtis caught a big bass on the north shore of the pond last week (below) and I saw an ugly snapping turtle crawling up the south bank.

May 15, 2013

New neighbors. Blah.

This is the view looking south from the our pond dam. You can see our fence at the bottom of the photo. The houses just keep coming, their windows pointing toward our pasture so they can enjoy the view. I think we need to invest in some fast-growing trees and some more privacy signs. I sure hope those folks don't think they can climb the fence and fish in our pond. But they will.

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