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 moved to the Midwest to get an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, have three children and own a farm where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans.

February 15, 2013

Let's keep wrestling!

This was a week of surprising news on many fronts (the Pope retires!), but in Iowa, where wrestling is king, the news that wrestling may be dropped from the Olympics got the most attention. The Iowa high school wrestling state tournament is going on as I write this, and a family friend from Indianola is just one win away from the finals.

As a former wrestling cheerleader, I'm going to the mat to overturn this dumb decision by the Olympic committee. Here is a note I got with ways to help.

Thank you for signaling your support for wrestling in the Olympics. We are looking to organize Iowans around this issue in the coming weeks and will be in touch with more information soon.

Please tell your friends and family about and spread the word on Twitter ( and Facebook (


Governor Branstad Committee

Below: Here I am as a wrestling cheerleader with my friends Robin, center, and Kelly, right.

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February 14, 2013

Dogs eating toys

This poor guy isn't too happy, but he's going to be fine. Bob surgically removed three "stuffing-free dog toys" out of his stomach this week. Those toys are popular right now, and no less dangerous than letting dogs chew any old stuffed animal. The selling points from manufacturers are, "hours of safe, healthy fun, stuffing-free, lays flat, easy to play with..."


February 12, 2013

Further developments

This is the view from the end of our lane. (That vet truck needs a wash!) The retirement home is expanding, and the YMCA in the distance is only months from its grand opening. Our 36-acre farm will have many more eyes on it. We bought seven sets of blinds for the windows to keep those old folks from snooping. HA. I really wish our house was in the middle of the pasture instead of near the road.

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February 11, 2013

Kidding time

This time last year we had this cute set of quads on the ground. However, their caretaker -- Caroline -- went off to college, so all the goats were sold after the county fair. I miss them, but Bob does not. Goats jump over every fence.

We still have 38 ewes, all pregnant and due in April. They are chewing through the hay in the barn. The harvest was down last year in the drought.

The subsoil in Iowa is still very dry. We had nice rains the past week, but the situation is troublesome.

If you are kidding or lambing or calving right now, good luck!

Drop some photos for us to see here:


February 7, 2013

Front Porch: Before and After

I am planning projects for our acreage this spring. 2012 was the Year of the Front Porch. After 100 years, the brick was cracked, the floor rotted, and the concrete steps crumbling. We found several local craftsmen to do the work, selected brick (I had no idea there were so many color and texture options) and flooring (again, many options), and wrote checks. Here are photos that show the porch before, during and after. There is still much landscaping work to do this spring. I can't wait to sit on my new front porch!


Our old cat, Marvin, loved the old porch even if it was cracked and peeling.

After we removed the old porch, people commented, "Your house sure looks different without the porch." Different = Ugly.

The ugly gets worse.

Marvin inspects the brick for his new porch.

New porch and new sidewalk, still wet.

Dirt work before winter sets in. This spring we will seed grass and add a few shrubs.


February 6, 2013

No Saturday mail

The end of Saturday mail service has Living the Country Life readers stirred up. What do you think? Join the discussion here.

Most people are just glad to not receive bills in their mailbox on Saturday.

I don't mind, IF they keep our post office open on Saturday. That is the only day I can get there to mail packages.


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February 4, 2013

Hens in hot water

The highlight of the Super Bowl for many people in rural America, based on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, was not who won the game, but the two-minute commercial by Ram Trucks "God Made a Farmer" in the second half. You can watch it here.

Speaking of social media, here is a popular post on the Living the Country Life Facebook news feed. Have a wonderful week!


February 1, 2013

Udderly good ideas

I attended Ag Connect Expo this week in Kansas City. My favorite session was by Cheryl Mohn, founder of Udder Tech in Lakeville, Minnesota. Cheryl was milking full-time on the family dairy operation when she dreamed up a product to shave 20 minutes off of her milking time. She designed the Towel Tote so everything she needed -- towels, pre-dip and post dip -- were handy. With a $2,000 loan from her parents, she launched Udder Tech in 1994.

Today, one of the company's most popular products is a calf blanket. Made of Thinsulate and with quick-release buckles for easy on and off (no velcro to get dirty), it is a hit with vets and farmers.

In fact, by total coincidence, my husband, Bob, sent me the photo above of a newborn calf, named Buttercup Ritchie, he was treating at the vet clinic this week. It's wearing an Udder Tech calf jacket.

That brings up another good point: It's frigid out there! Calving season always starts on the coldest week of the year. Below is the homemade, rigged up calf warming hut Bob uses at the clinic. It works!


January 28, 2013


Many of you have read about my Uncle David, Dad's younger brother, who had schizophrenia. I have shared parts of my grandmother's journals detailing his suffering.

David died on Saturday in Pennsylvania from heart failure. He was 72. For the past decade he had refused to see anyone from the family, including his mother and older brothers Doug, 78, and Phil, 75 (my dad). It was hard on everyone, but there was little we could do. He was cared for by the staff at the long-term psychiatric facilty.

One of the great tragedies of David's life is that he wasn't able to enjoy the companionship of his two brothers. For Dad's 75th birthday this month, Doug wrote him a letter that I share here. It demonstates what siblings can mean to each other.

Happy 75th Birthday my dear brother,

50 years ago if you had asked me what I would be doing in 2013 I would have had no clue. If I had asked you the same question you would have been able to tell me, “On the farm.” My hearty congratulations on your perseverance. You have been the rock of our family and the preserver of our family heritage on both the Ross and Johnson sides. Granddad Ross is saying, “Well done, my grandson on the farm.” Your father is saying, “Atta-Boy. I knew you would do it.”

You will recall Pop talking of how hard Nelson Neyman [a neighbor dairy farmer] worked. Surely you have run a neck to neck race with him in your lifetime. As you have demonstrated, some things just need to get done. Pick those tomatoes, load those hogs.

Moore’s Chapel would not be what it is today were it not for your skill, fortitude and perseverance. Anyone can make a monetary contribution, but few can see the task completed.

There are those that may think of you as that “gruff old man.” How quickly that image dissipates as one talks with you. My children and their children love Uncle Phil. I have watched with envy how young people seek your tutelage. You have been able to discipline and guide without resentment. You dished out some pretty tough love, and it brought results. I have seen the love you showed my girls though the years. Many thanks. Your 4-H livestock club taught many the appreciation of animals. Those young people are all the better because you took the time to be interested in them.

Phil, thank you for your brotherly love toward me. I know many of my radical ideas needed taming. You were the source of the scraper that leveled the playing field. You must have asked, where did I come up with those ideas? We could always work together without injuring one another.

One last thought about you is your skill in picking a life mate. I remember very well the pride you had when you first told me of Ruth Ann. You can mark that decision as the very best life-altering move you ever made.

May your next years be as fulfilling as those in the past!


Aunt Jane, Uncle Doug, Mom and Dad

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January 24, 2013

Pig decisions

I stopped by the Iowa Pork Congress and immediately ran into a couple I have seen every year at this event for more than 25 years. Junior and Violet greeted me with, "Betsy! We need your advice." They are thinking about retiring, at least from the pig business. Their production contract ended and they can either look for another pig supplier or stop feeding hogs. Their barns are old and need work.

I told them what Bob did when his feeding contract ended. He scrapped what he could from the old barns and hired a company to tear down the rest. If you don't get rid of the barns, somebody will come along and say, "I have 500 pigs I need a place for. Can you feed them?" Junior had already been asked to do that. Violet says she won't load hogs any more. Her back can't take it.

I told them to retire. If you are wondering if it's time, it's probably time.

"What will I do when I get up in the morning if I don't have hogs to feed?" said Junior. I suggested a project in the shop. First he could clean the shop, said Violet.

These are salt-of-the-earth people who only leave the farm to attend farm shows. Iowa Pork Congress is their vacation for the year, unless they go wild and also attend World Pork Expo. Every day they fed hogs, moved manure, vaccinated pigs -- and they loved it. The kids live nearby, and Violet helps with the grandkids several days a week.

Good luck to them as they retire. Or at least retire from pig production. Junior reminded me, "I'm still feeding cattle."

Here was my decision for the morning: Should I try both of these foods on display?