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

May 20, 2014

The lambs are happy

We sent the sheep to pasture this week, but not before a rainbow touched down behind the barn.

In preparation for the foray into grass we vaccinate and worm every animal. Caroline arrived home from college just in time to help. Literally, the minute she stepped out of her car we told her to put her boots on and come to the barn.

Worming the ewes.

Vaccinating the lambs

Worming the lambs. Fast little suckers.

Our cute babies at one month old.

May 14, 2014

It's Wild Mustard

This invasive weed is wild mustard (sinapis arvensis), not leafy spurge. I brought a few samples to the office and research showed it to be wild mustard. Bob was right all along.

It's not great news, however, as the weed has taken over both alfalfa fields and spread into the pasture. The seeds are toxic and cause gastrointestinal problems if consumed in large quantities by our sheep. No wonder they don't like this plant.

The good news is that the field is full of bees and other pollinators right now.

A weed is just a plant out of place.

More information here:

May 12, 2014

The Scourge of Leafy Spurge

Two years ago, a pretty yellow plant infested one of our alfalfa fields. We called it mustard, but it wasn't mustard. The sheep refused to eat any part of it. We dug up that field last fall and planted a cover crop of turnips and radishes, and then oats this spring.

Now the pretty yellow plant is blooming in the alfalfa field behind the barn. It's also in the north end of our pasture. I walked through the pasture yesterday with Caroline and her boyfriend, John. His dad farms in North Dakota. John immediately identified the invasive species as leafy spurge, a much-hated plant in the Plains.

This morning I researched leafy spurge and I don't like anything I see. Here are some links with good info:

This noxious weed from Europe and Asia is destroying pastures and it very hard to control. Guess we better start attacking.

UPDATE: This is not leafy spurge, but wild mustard (Bob was right). See more here:


Leafy spurge (yellow plants) in our pasture

May 8, 2014

What's Up?

The tulips I planted last fall have finally bloomed! Well, at least a few of them have bloomed. The majority either didn't come up or only have green leaves, no flower. I posted this on the Living the Country Life Facebook page and many readers said their tulips had the same disappointing results this spring. It was a long, hard winter.

Roses also took a hit, at least in the Midwest. I thought my two small bushes were dead, but I see a little green leaf on one of them now.

My lilacs are blooming well, however! What a wonderful smell. I sat under these branches last night well past dark (reading on my iPad). Ahhhh.

May 5, 2014

Cleaning out Grandpa's acreage

Bob's dad moved to a retirement community this spring and sold the acreage where he raised his family. These moves are always difficult, both emotionally and physically. The big house and garage had lots of "stuff" to haul, and then there were the three barns/sheds. Bob's trailer got much use going back and forth to the scrapyard and dump.

Some things were too good to toss. These old boards and windows were from another old house Bob tore down when he was a teenager and stored in the barn. Caroline is going to use some of the boards in a woodworking class at college. She may turn the windows into art, too.

Maybe we should have called American Pickers.

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April 29, 2014

Growing fast!

Everything at our place is growing lickety split now -- the lambs, the oats, and the garden. I'm harvesting asparagus each night. The potato plants have popped out of the ground. The tulips are almost ready to bloom. We are getting much needed rain and the tornadoes are staying south of us.

Nowlan and Danny planting the last of my garden.

This shirt was designed by the Indianola Vet Clinic staff for Girl's Night Out on the town square. The quote is Bob's favorite about the busy spring calving season. OB stands for obstetrics.

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April 24, 2014

The gang's all here

My oldest, Nowlan, and his wife, Daniella, are visiting this week, so we put them to work. Besides barn chores, the kids are helping to clean Grandpa's acreage.

Baby lambs, bonfires, visits with friends, good conversation -- a nice spring vacation!

A pile of sleepy lambs.

Warren, Nowlan, Danny, Caroline, and friend John Nagel at their favorite restaurant, ADong.


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April 21, 2014

End of the lambing season, thank goodness

At midnight last night, as Bob was doing c-section surgery on the fourth ewe this month with Warren's assist, we all decided the lambing season for 2014 was a bit of a bust. We had a rash of ewes that were "non-dilators," meaning their cervix never dilated enough to let the lambs be born naturally. It could be genetics, but Bob says the cause is uncertain. We also had several vaginal prolapses.

We are getting new rams this fall and Bob says he's breeding "speckle-faced" (crossbred) ewe lambs now, not purebred Dorsets. A good set of twins beats triplets and quads most days.

One of several bottle lambs. This little guy is the runt of triplets.

Wrapping up a c-section at midnight. Both lambs and the mom are fine this morning.

April 18, 2014

Filming a birth

We captured some nice video last night, mainly by chance. David Ekstrom, a video producer for Living the Country Life and Successful Farming, came down to our farm to take video of our lambs. Two of the final six ewes yet to give birth decided to go into labor while David was there. He filmed Bob pulling a lamb, milking the ewe, and tubing lambs. Sweet.

We also tagged some lambs, gave vaccinations, banded tails, and trimmed hooves. Look for David's videos on next week.

April 15, 2014

Sowing oats (not wild)

We had torrents of rain over the weekend, but not before Bob sowed the oats (cultivated, not wild) and tilled my garden. YAY. We needed the rain.

I planted carrots, endive, and spinach. (It might be too early for spinach.) This weekend I am planting potatoes and onions.

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