One accident and 110,000 miles later, there she sat in the parking lot of my Des Moines apartment complex. Dad handed me the keys to Grandpa’s old Chrysler New Yorker, a car with a broken air conditioner, a radio that couldn’t pull in a signal, and a heater on life support.

Formerly Grandpa’s pride and joy, the New Yorker was a luxury car when he purchased it back in 1994. Fourteen years later there was nothing “luxury” about it. But I was fresh out of college and the price was right, so I took it.

Besides, I didn’t want to act like not having an air conditioner would kill me. Like most livestock farmers, my parents had braved Iowa’s extreme weather conditions to raise hogs in the pasture and feedlots for 16 years, before switching exclusively to modern hog buildings. I didn’t have to tell them that a car – or a pasture or feedlot – with no air conditioner really sucks when it’s 100 degrees in mid July or that it would be nice to have a reliable heater when it’s -20 degrees in early January.

That’s one thing some people don’t understand about livestock farming today. Despite what you may hear about them, modern livestock barns are actually more comfortable for the animals and the farm families that work in them. Trust me. For 15 years I’ve worked in barns that are only a few hundred feet away from my parent’s house.

Out in the elements farmers have to be more concerned about frozen water lines and other consequences of extreme climate conditions that put animals – especially young livestock – at risk.

Modern hog barns don’t eliminate these problems, but they help. They also allow farmers to take advantage of technology that benefits livestock. For example, my parents have climate control monitors in each of their buildings. And if the sensors fail, an alarm control company calls them. If Dad doesn’t answer the phone, the call goes to my mom and then my brother, who just graduated from college and joined the family farm full time in December. Heck, the alarm control company will even call me – at any hour of the day or night – if no one else picks up immediately, even though I’m 130 miles away. Why? Because responsible animal caretakers never take a break.

So modern hog barns aren’t just about improving a farmer’s bottom line; they’re about improving quality of life. But you wouldn’t know that if you only read “factory farm” headlines and your only exposure to livestock is the time you spend riding the mechanical bull at your local watering hole. It’s okay to be nostalgic about traditional livestock farming, as long as you’re also willing to acknowledge reality. Frozen water lines are reality. Frostbite is reality.

As for me, I’m done propping up the hood of my car with a baseball bat to plug in the wire that runs from my heater to the battery. I’m through holding my breath and praying that my defroster will keep up with the steam on my windshield. My new car has automatic windows and locks, a CD player, and fully-functioning temperature control. My friends may complain when I set the heater to 90 degrees, but it’s tough to shake the chilly memories of driving in my old car. I’m still thawing.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.