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.

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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May 13, 2013


My oldest son, Nowlan, married Daniella Triebwasser on Friday evening in a beautiful ceremony near our Iowa home. They met as graduate students at Clemson University. Danny's family traveled from North Carolina, Washington D.C,, and Venezuela for the wedding. My family came from Maryland, and Bob's family from Texas and Colorado. It was wonderful to get everyone together for worship, dancing, good food, and days of celebrating. It was the best week of my life. Here are a few photos. More to come later.

Caroline finished final exams at college just in time to race home for the wedding.

My parents on the dance floor.

The newlyweds walk to our pasture.

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May 6, 2013

Annual foot trim

Bob castrated and docked tails on the remaining lambs. It was a poor year, with nine ewes in the cull pen for various reasons. The rams are getting culled, too.

The most dreaded chore of the year is the annual foot trimming. Bob has to flip every ewe over and clip her hard nails while she flails her back legs and I scramble to keep the babies out of her way. All I can think is, "Thank goodness he doesn't do my pedicures." The iodine bottle gets some use.

You can see in this photo how we got the ewes too fat on alfalfa. This mom is nursing triplets and looks like she has three more inside.

May 3, 2013

May snow

Go home winter. You are drunk.

This was my view to the barn at daybreak. Iowa got pounded with snow overnight, the most ever for May.

Below is the grove, with my blooming pear tree in the front.

We asked for moisture to ease the drought of 2012, but really.

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May 2, 2013

Lamb diorama

These photos of our new lambs look like they are in a diorama. You should be able to reach in there and pet his cute head. We have about 20 sets of triplets this year.

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May 1, 2013

Porch landscaping

The work around our remodeled front porch continues. We now have red rock, a few plants, stone edging, and grass seeding. Rain, sleet, and snow is expected tomorrow. I want the moisture, but not the 32 degrees in the forecast. 

April 29, 2013

Garden is a GO!

The conditions were finally right for Bob to till the garden. With all the compost he dumped on top last fall, the ground was as soft as commercial potting soil when he finished tilling. I made deep footprints and knee prints as I planted potatoes, onions, kohlrabi, and brussel sprouts. I still have the front of the garden to plant. Beets, lettuce, and tomatoes will go there. I'm planting gladiolius around the edges.

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April 25, 2013

Barn of baaas

We have had some unfortunate deaths of ewes this spring, resulting in this cute set of triplet bottle lambs. They are doing well.

Bob is upset with himself for getting the ewes too fat, and says that is the cause of our lambing troubles. The drought last year meant alfalfa yields were lower, but the quality was much higher. Each bale we fed the ewes had significantly more protein and energy than normal.

We didn't notice until we sheared them that the ewes were so fat. Too late. You can't cut back on groceries in the late stages of gestation or you will cause even more health problems. So we make do.

Even when you've been farming for 25 years you can still learn something every season.

Every ewe but one has twins or triplets. Thanks to our good neighbor Bill Hulen for helping with the ewe checks again this year.



April 22, 2013

A rough spring for cattle

The sick Red Angus calf says it all. It's been a rough spring for cattle -- long, cold, and wet. She ended up in the vet clinic "hot box" last night with an IV.

Bob says this has been the worst spring calving season he's seen in 25 years. He's treated many calves for pneumonia and other conditions. It's been a steady stream of farmers bringing cold calves into the clinic.

A farmer called last night about a cow down, possibly from grass tetany. Spring rains came quickly, so pastures are greening up fast. Bob is seeing more problems with this deadly condition caused by low amounts of magnesium in the blood serum after livestock graze young, succulent, cool season grasses. The recent drought can be playing a part, according to this report from Montana State University. Older animals, cows that have recently given birth, those nursing, high milk producers, and fat animals are more susceptible to grass tetany.

Early symptoms include uncoordinated gait, staggering, nervousness, excitability, and muscle spasms. There is only a four- to eight-hour interval between the onset of symptoms and death.

Montana State gives these tips to decrease the likelihood of grass tetany in your herd:

  • Graze animals that are less susceptible to grass tetany on tetany-prone pastures (i.e., steers, heifers, stocker calves, cows with calves older than four months).
  • Delay spring grazing until grass is 4 to 6 inches tall.
  • Graze pastures that have residual standing dead forage present before grazing pastures without.
  • Feed animals roughage for 10 to 14 days at the beginning of the grazing season before turning them out on lush, green pastures.
  • Feed legumes, which are higher in Mg than grasses, or graze legume pastures first in the spring.
  • Do not fertilize pastures with nitrogen (N) or potassium (K) before spring grazing.
  • Check animals grazing lush, succulent pastures periodically throughout the day for symptoms of grass tetany.
  • Supplement animals with a legume hay.
  • Supplement animals with a mineral or protein-energy supplement, using a form that will ensure that every animal will receive 1 to 2 ounces of magnesium oxide per day, for 30 days before spring grazing and for 30 days after the initiation of spring grazing.
  • Supplement animals by treating controlled water sources with soluble Mg salt.
  • Cull or develop alternative management strategies for animals that develop grass tetany because they will be prone to develop it in the future.

Call your veterinarian if you see signs of grass tetany. A sterile solution containing Mg and Ca (e.g., 200-500 ml calcium magnesium gluconate) can be given slowly to the animal intravenously. Enemas of 60 grams of magnesium chloride dissolved in 200 ml of water, placed in a collapsible, plastic bottle can be administered.