No one should have survived this. This short documentary captures an incredible rescue. Visit the crash site, come along on the search for survivors, and watch the impossible take place.
They weren’t supposed to die…
It all started with survivors…
…on my first visit to Iowa Farm Sanctuary, our state’s first and only vegan sanctuary for farmed animals who have either been liberated or escaped their fate in our food industry.
Not long after I arrived, IFS co-founder Shawn received a call from her husband. A semi truck carrying cows to slaughter had flipped on a highway about 45 minutes away.
The Sanctuary’s only trailer had a blown tire, so they posted a desperate call for help on Facebook as we took off for the crash site in hopes of saving any survivors.
By the time we arrived, they’d been cleaning up for over five hours already, but three bodies still remained. We could see the legs of one cow projecting upwards from the top of the dumpster, filled to the brim with carcasses.
Walking the path of the truck through the woods, seeing cast off parts wrapped around trees from the sheer impact of the descent, the remaining ejected bodies of cows lying bloodied in the brush, and the violently contorted remains of the trailer, it was hard to believe anyone survived.
Information was scant and scattered. We’d heard that the driver was at the hospital—pulled from the wreckage in the river. At least twenty cows had died from the impact or were shot on site. Some escaped into the woods, and we found the body of one who had tried, but succumbed to his internal injuries. And there were eight survivors who’d been caught, but their current location was unclear.
Shawn made call after call, tracing their path, finally getting a tip that they were being held at some back-roads location registered to a trucking agency. But we arrived to find it largely abandoned, save for an idling empty livestock truck— a striking contrast to the mangled, bloodied remains of the one I’d been inside only half an hour ago.
While Shawn spoke with the driver, I went around back, finding a group of baby cows huddled together in a holding pen. Recently taken from their mothers, they were likely awaiting transfer to either the veal or beef industry—their impending slaughter not a matter of if, but when.
A man—whom I’ll call Chad—had answered the sanctuary’s plea for a trailer and met us at the stop off. It was clear within a few minutes that he didn’t quite understand what he’d volunteered for.
This is Iowa. The center of America’s industrial agriculture. The first state to pass the modern Ag Gag laws. For many residents, the concept of a farmed animal sanctuary isn’t just unheard of—it’s incomprehensible.
But it would be a mistake—and one we activist often make—to dismiss, or become combative with people like Chad. When Shawn got a new lead about an equally vague location, the driver of the empty truck—familiar with the area’s industry stops—offered to escort us.
And so we began our unlikely caravan: a livestock truck, leading two vegan activists rounded out with a beef farmer and his trailer—all off to save some cows.
And this time, we found them.
The man in charge—whom I’ll call Frank—was a bit wary at first. In the system we’ve created, the eight surviving cows were someone’s property. And like any business, the “owner” had to assess if they were financially worth recovering.
While Shawn made another call to what we hoped was the company with legal ownership, I spoke with Frank about the crash site. He was one of the first people on the scene and described how initially, they’d mistaken the driver’s screams for just another cow crying out in pain. They’d found him pinned in the wreckage, his mouth filling with water from the river as he called for help.
Finally, we were given the go-ahead. And there they were. Shaken and terrified. With no way of knowing that this final trip of their very long day, had them bound for home.
Arriving at the Sanctuary, the residents gathered to check out the newcomers. And as the eight brothers stepped out of the trailer, they took their first steps as free individuals.
As we watched them huddle into the far corner, shielding the most injured of the group—still on high alert—Chad, the beef farmer who answered the desperate call of some vegan activists, making this entire rescue possible, asked me a question I will never forget:
Chad: “They just live until they die, or what?”
“Yeah,” I said. “They live until they die.”
In order for us to be able to do what we do to animals and maintain the image we have of ourselves as good and decent people—animal lovers, even—we’ve had to distance, disconnect, and distract ourselves. Construct systems so astoundingly convoluted, that the concept of a chicken, pig, or cow living until they die is literally beyond our grasp.
Yet at the same time, we like to believe that the animals we eat lived a good life. That they were well-treated. We shield ourselves from the violent deaths they’re destined for, shuttering them inside metal boxes at which we dare not look too closely, lest we meet their eyes and remember that these…are individuals.
But when a truck flips, spilling their bodies and blood across our path, we’re confronted not only with the horror of their suffering and deaths, but also with the very thing we’ve had to work so hard to suppress and avoid: our compassion.
These accidents expose the depth of our disconnect and lay bare our conflicting beliefs: people wince at the news of a livestock truck crash, mutter “those poor cows” or “how awful for those pigs” without the slightest awareness of the absurdity of their statements.
Because these very same people will later consume the flesh and secretions of some other “poor” cow, pig, or chicken who had the great fortune of their truck making it to the slaughterhouse.
It all ended with survivors…
That accident that day—as horrifying as it was, and as terrifying it must have been to experience—for these eight cows, it was a miracle of sorts—their only chance at life. Because had everything gone according to plan, they’d have been killed, bled out and hacked apart—their deaths no less brutal than their brothers who died in the crash day.
But like the other over 822,000 cows slaughtered that day behind closed doors, they’d have passed from existence without a single gasp of shock or even quiet whisper of “those poor cows.”
Find out what happened to the survivors in part two—coming soon. To support the life-saving efforts of IFS, visit IowaFarmSanctuary.org and to help Bite Size Vegan create more videos like this, pledge monthly support on Patreon or give a one time donation.
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— Emily Moran Barwick