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.

June 14, 2013

What's growing

I'm gunning for the Biggest Potato ribbon at the county fair again. My spuds are growing fast. Tomatoes, not so good. They will be late this year.

Hope your garden is doing well!

June 12, 2013

1st cutting -- finally

It's old and yellow. Got rained on, too.

There's nothing good about this field of alfalfa. Bob wanted to rip it up last fall and replant, but the guy with the equipment wasn't available. So we are left with a field of mustard.

We haven't cut the alfalfa field behind the barn. It's better quality, so we are waiting. At some point, you just have to grit your teeth, ignore the weather report, and get that first cutting out of there.


June 10, 2013

Freese Family reunion

On the second Sunday in June every year, the descendants of Bernard and Caroline Freese, who came from Germany in 1880, gather to catch up. We celebrated yesterday in Haverhill, Iowa, where the Freese family settled and had seven children. One of their sons, Leo, was my husband's grandfather.

The oldest person at the reunion was Bernard Freese, 85, shown below next to a photo of his grandfather, the original Bernard. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Our daughter, Caroline, 19, was named for the original Caroline Freese, her great-great grandmother, who was born in 1868. Below are old photos and info about the family.

The original Caroline Freese.

The Catholic church in Haverhill, Iowa, where Bernard and Caroline raised their family.

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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.