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.

January 23, 2013

Pie Day

Nobody will ever believe me, but I didn't know it was National Pie Day until after I posted a photo of my Mom's empty pie shell (shown below) on the Living the Country Life Facebook page and asked readers what filling they liked best. The response was so fast and fun that I created a poll with all the different types of pies, based on the reader feedback. Vote here:

I also discovered there is a National Pie Council (

For the record, I love berry (any kind of berry), tart cherry, tart lemon cream, and rhubard pie the best.

January 22, 2013

Farm signs

These old signs hang on the wall of Dad's shop. Each one has meaning. My Uncle Doug sold Kesco milking equipment. Dad planted DeKalb corn. And my grandfather, Warren D. Johnson raised and processed turkeys on his Pennsylvania farm for 50 years. The locals called him Turkey Johnson and wouldn't buy their Thanksgiving birds from anyone else. "The taste is never forgotten."

I don't know anything about the sign below, but it makes me smile.


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January 21, 2013

A good day to ship a box of meat

When I left for work this morning it was ZERO, DARK, and Seven THIRTY. (Speaking of that movie, I saw it over the weekend and highly recommend the last half.)

We have a saying at our house when it's this cold: It's a good day to ship a box of meat.

Bob is at the UPS store right now sending a box of frozen lamb chops and ground lamb to our son in South Carolina. With a little dry ice the meat will still be rock hard when it arrives.

A few years ago, when we didn't know what we were doing, we shipped a box of meat to Nowlan's apartment during the summer. It went to the wrong UPS warehouse and they were confused on the address, but failed to call us. When the meat finally arrived it was very bad indeed.

The photo below shows our kids and friends during Christmas break. I cooked a leg of lamb for their "gaming" night.

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January 18, 2013

Massages and bookcases

Two weeks ago Mom was diagnosed with pneumonia. It's been one of those winters. She got an ear infection the week before Thanksgiving, and then a nasty chest cold which lingered through Christmas. She is now on her fourth round of antibiotics, but is finally starting to feel better. I flew out to Maryland to see if I could cheer her up and stayed long enough to celebrate Dad's 75th birthday.

Dad is restoring an old manure spreader in the shop and pruning his raspberries. For his birthday Mom gave him a gift certificate for a massage, his first. She didn't know if he would like it, but thought it might help with his sore muscles. When he returned she asked how it went.

"Great," said Dad. "I'm going back in two weeks. She was a cute redhead."

I decided to buy Dad a bookcase for the basement. His books were in boxes. My friend Robin drove to the store and we loaded a 6-ft oak bookcase in her SUV. We got home and snuck it in the basement before Dad came in to watch the Ravens play.

"Where's Dad?" I asked Mom.

"He went to an auction to buy bookcases."

Soon Dad came in the lane with three bookcases in the back of his truck. He had quite a shock when he went in the basement, and then we all had a good laugh. His auction finds were junk, so he tossed them on the scrap heap.

Below: Mom and Dad in their favorite spots. You know Mom is on the mend when she starts baking.

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January 9, 2013

Stuck tongues

WARNING: Graphic image below.

An NBC report this morning talked about kids getting their tongues stuck inside popular metal water bottles. The narrow neck and brass ridges on the bottle create a suction and act like a noose, trapping the tongue. The tongue swells up and can die, or it can block the airway and suffocate the child. See the story here.

Many human health stories remind Bob of similar cases in his veterinary practice, and this was no different. He immediate thought of a hunting dog he saw last month with a swollen tongue.

On close examination, Bob saw that a tendon of some kind was wrapped around the base of the tongue. It turned out to be the trachea of a deer. The owner had fed the dog raw venison after a hunt and the dog had gotten his tongue stuck inside the deer trachea. It acted as a noose and caused the tongue to swell.

There is no happy ending to this story. After removal of the deer trachea, the tongue remained swollen. Quality of life became an issue, and the owner and Bob made the difficult decision to put the dog down.

The owner agreed to publish the story and photo as a way to warn other hunters and dog owners about the dangers of feeding raw venison to pets.

January 7, 2013

Census of Ag

Bob got a call from the USDA the other night. I wasn't sure who he was talking to at first; all I heard was "40...about 85...2...I have no more goats!"

The call was from the Census of Agriculture. I'm not sure why they called, as we still have time to fill out the batch of paperwork (shown below) before the Feb 4 deadline.

One thing they wanted to know was how many tons of hay we had fed in 2012. "Half a hayloft full," said Bob. We don't weigh our small bales of hay, and I'm not sure any small farmer does.

Last night Bob went through all the records on our sheep operation. He was astounded to find that we lost 12 tagged lambs last summer. That doesn't count lambs that died at birth or within a few days. We found three carcasses in the pasture killed by coyotes, but there must have been many more.

It was a hot, dry summer, and the ewes and lambs went into the pasture at night more often than in a normal year, searching for grass. This year we will call them up at dusk and lock them behind the barn until morning. Live and learn.

For more information on the Census of Agriculture, go here.

January 4, 2013

Wacky animals

Lisa Prater built a funny slideshow today called 16 Wacky Animals. She found an old photo of mine from the first year we raised goats. At that time I couldn't believe a goat would climb all the way to the top of a rack of hay. Later I learned they climb up the barn, on your back, and more. If you need a good laugh, check out the slideshow.

Here is my favorite goat climbing photo:

January 3, 2013

Games people play

What's your favorite card game? Every Christmas the extended Freese family plays 500. We set up card tables and split into pairs. Younger kids learn by sitting with an adult for a few years until they are old enough to understand the left and right Jack, trump, bidding, following suit, and other parts of the game.

In the photo above, I have my back to the camera and am playing with my brother-in-law Randall. His son, Graham, is to my right. On my left is Matt, my niece's boyfriend. Yes, we teach the boyfriends and girlfriends to play, too. Once they win a few rounds they can marry into the family. Just kidding.

In the photo below, Grandpa Freese has his back to the camera. He's been playing 500 for almost 500 years, I think. That is Aunt Lois to his right. She is an old hand at the game, too.

There was a fourth card table out of camera range. All told, we had 16 people playing cards for four hours one afternoon. Good times.

January 2, 2013

Handmade gifts

My mother hired her friend Linda Brammer to make a wedding quilt for Nowlan and Danie. It turned out beautiful.

I had a local furniture company, Sticks, make a custom mirror for the couple. I listed things I wanted as decoration -- barn, pigs, sheep, strawberries, cheesecake, and more -- and they created the design. (Caroline photo bombed my picture.)

Happy New Year to all!

December 26, 2012

Blizzards and other Big Events

A blizzard rolled in last week as Bob and I were set to fly to North Carolina. Our flight was delayed a day, and then longer (the plane froze to the runway). We finally made it to Charlotte just in time to drive straight to the courthouse where son Nowlan and Daniella were married! The timing was so close that Nowlan and Danie ran from the car, across the street, and up the stairs to the courthouse. Judges don't wait.

We had a wonderful trip, and the farm was in good hands with Warren and Caroline home from college. Speaking of college, congratulations to Warren who graduated from Iowa State University with a marketing degree!

It has been a big month for the Freese family. All the best to you and yours in the New Year.


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