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.

May 21, 2013

After the storms

Tiny tornadoes danced around central Iowa the past few days, dipping and twirling, but not killing. We spent Sunday evening in the basement as the worst of the storms went by. At every break in the rain, a cardinal flew down to the garage roof and called for his mate. His song was so strident Caroline thought help was needed outside. "Is Dad whistling for me?"

In Oklahoma the storms were killing machines. I am horrified by the destruction.

Bob says he is cleaning out the cupboard under the basement stairs and installing a sturdy door. That would be the safest place in our house. He also wants to replace the old door on the storm cellar (see photo).

Stay safe.

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.