An unlikely story of how a fatal crash saved eight lives. An accident, however brutal and horrifying, is a miracle of sorts—if you’re on the way to your execution. Meet the survivors—each an individual in their own right.
I want to tell you a story most unlikely—a story of how a fatal crash saved eight lives. You see, an accident, however brutal and horrifying, is a miracle of sorts—if you’re on the way to your execution.
Meet the Liber8ed. Part One of this documentary chronicled the accident that granted these eight cows bound for slaughter a chance at life, and their subsequent rescue. Now, in Part Two, you’ll get to meet these survivors—each an individual in their own right.
Shawn, the cofounder of Iowa Farm Sanctuary, a farmed animal sanctuary in Iowa, has been with the boys ever since that day we finally found them—shaken and terrified—and brought them to their forever home. So I thought it was only fitting to have her narrate their stories. The summaries of each boy are written from Shawn’s perspective.
Of all the survivors, Max had the most blatantly obvious injuries—bleeding from his nose, mouth, and right eye. Because of this, he was the first to go to the hospital, making the two hour journey the day after the accident. Given his painfully visible wounds, and certain there was additional internal trauma, we were not optimistic about Max’s future. The swelling around his eye was so intense that the doctors were unable to perform scans until a few days after his arrival at the clinic, when it had gone down enough.
The scans revealed that Max sustained multiple fractures to his jaw and orbital bones—but due to his critical condition, he was not a candidate for surgery. Dehydrated and unable to eat, given the immense pain of his broken jaw, Max still remained trusting and gentle, quickly endearing himself with the veterinary staff, who said he was like a really, really big dog.
After a few weeks, Max was cleared to come home as long as we were able to administer his eye and pain medications. Due to the trauma he endured, Max’s face is paralyzed—evidenced by his drooping ear and heavy tongue when he eats. We do not know what sort of—if any—vision he has in his right eye.
I gave Max his name after the movie character “Mad Max” who was always a survivor of very traumatic experiences. The pain and suffering our Max endured is undeniable, yet he is the most loving, sweet, trusting, beautiful creature. His strength and forgiveness is admirable.
You can immediately tell Tucker apart from his brothers because of his long, curly hair. After the accident, we noticed Tucker seemed to have some difficulty eating and some of his teeth were visibly crooked.
At ISU (Iowa State University’s Large Animal Hospital) , the doctors found some pretty substantial damage inside Tucker’s mouth that would have to heal on its own. They informed us that over time, Tucker would likely loose the teeth knocked loose by the crash, but that miraculously he’d not sustained any major injuries.
Tucker was named by Chelsea Wilde, in honor of her family. Now home at the Sanctuary, Tucker tends to hang back, letting his brothers make sure things are safe before he follows. Still, as cautious as he is, Tucker will occasionally take treats from our hands. He’s an incredibly gentle being—a temperament perfectly complimented by his soft, fluffy coat.
In Part One, Charlie’s brothers protectively shielded him upon their arrival at the Sanctuary. They knew what wasn’t immediately apparent to us at the time—Charlie had sustained the most severe injuries of the group.
Shawn: Charlie was the only brown cow of the brothers—aptly named by a long time supporter and friend of Iowa Farm Sanctuary, who was at the scene of the accident. While it was obvious as he exited the trailer the day of the accident that Charlie’s back leg was injured, we would have never guessed that he’d sustained a shattered pelvis—a devastating injury for a cow.
We made the two hour trip to bring Charlie and his brother Bhramena to Iowa State University’s Large Animal Hospital. After X-raying Charlie, the veterinary team informed us that due to the nature and extent of his injuries, there was no way to repair his fractures.
Charlie was the first of the Liber8ed to whom we were forced to say goodbye. We were able to find some some solace only in the fact that he was able to experience being treated with love and kindness by human beings—however briefly so—before he passed.
Note from Emily: I had the honor of naming Bhramena. “Bhramena” is Sanskrit for “by mistake” or “accidentally.”1
Bhramena’s name was was perfect because he quite literally came into our lives by and due to an accident. Like Charlie, Bhramena had obvious injuries to his back legs—both were lacerated down to the bone. At ISU hospital, the doctors suspected that Bhramena may have had a patch of dead bone in one of his legs, caused by an interruption of blood supply from a fracture
Before they were able to surgically remove the bone, an infection had spread to both legs. The ISU team explored every possible option to give Bhramena a chance at having any quality of life. If only one leg had been injured, there may have had more options, but with two legs completely compromised, the veterinarians cautioned us to start preparing for the worst.
Ten days after saying goodbye to Charlie, we had to say another tearful farewell to our dear Bhramena.
We certainly wish we could have known these sweet boys better. At the very least, they were able to pass with as much comfort, care and love as possible.
Unlike some of his brothers, Frank’s injuries were painfully obvious: his tail was completely severed during the accident and his lip was lacerated down to the bone. While the wound on what remained of his tail had begun to heal on its own, his lip required medical attention at the ISU clinic. The doctors drained an abscess on his jaw and assured us that he was healing well.
Frank was named by my husband Jered—short for the moniker “Frank the Tank”. Of all his brothers, Frank is certainly the most cautious. Even a month and a half after the accident, he still wouldn’t let us anywhere near him—and who could blame him, given all he’d been through!
We’ve respected Frank’s boundaries, letting him set his own terms. Over time, he began allowing us to come within arm’s length—as long as we had his favorite treats on hand—and has now graduated to accepting and relishing back rubs.
Two days after the accident, after putting the other sanctuary residents to bed, I went to check on the Liber8ed and thought that I’d found Cooper dead. As I got closer, I noticed he was still breathing—but it was incredibly labored. His eyes were rolled back and his stomach was bloated. I struggled with whether I should let him go peacefully or jostle him enough to make him fight
I decided to pick his head up and rest it in my lap, stroking his neck and comforting him in whatever decision he made. He chose to fight. He fought for the two hour drive to ISU and for an agonizing month thereafter.
Initially, Cooper had to have the inside toe of his back left leg amputated, and miraculously made it through the procedure. But while Cooper’s surgical wound was healing well, a large laceration on the other toe wasn’t responding to antibiotics, and X-rays revealed breakdown in the remaining bone.
The veterinarians continued to monitor his status, but with Cooper’s compromised mobility, the bone continued to deteriorate and the infection spread to his joint. We were given two options: amputate the other toe of his hoof, which would require a prosthetic, or perform an operation that had never been done before—surgically inserting metal rods in Cooper’s leg right above his ankle and building a cast extending past the bottom of his foot with a prosthetic hoof, so that when he walked, he’d be putting weight on rods, not his foot.
With the doctors’ guidance, we chose the second option, with amputation remaining a last resort. The vets also performed a bone graft to the compromised bone. Cooper made it through surgery, and we were hopeful for his recovery.
Two weeks later, when removing his cast, pus poured out from Coopers leg. The vets found an infection where the bone graft was harvested and scans showed the deterioration had progressed to other bones in his leg.
We were told that at this point, his injuries were catastrophic. He was in immense pain, despite medication, and there was no chance of recouping the damage that the infection had caused. He was not responding to antibiotics due to an immunity built up from all the antibiotics so-called “food animals” are fed throughout their abbreviated lives.
Cooper suffered through, fought, and endured so much—even a surgery that no other bovine ever had. Yet after all of that, we lost him to an infection. An infection that should have been treatable. While Cooper escaped his fated slaughter that day on the highway, his life was still ultimately taken by our food industry.
Django has the distinction of being the largest of the Liber8ed. Initially we thought he’d escaped injury, but after a good washing from a rainy day, noticed lacerations on his hip, spine, and front leg, the latter of which began to swell. The doctors at ISU weren’t too concerned with Django’s injuries, which were easily treated.
Decidedly the leader of the group, Django is usually found keeping watch over his brothers, and is always the first to come running for food, water and head rubs when he sees us. I call him “Black Beauty”—he’s absolutely gorgeous with the deepest eyes, the cutest mop on his head and always a swagger to his step.
A couple who supports and visits IFS every chance they get named Django after Quentin Tarantino’s movie centering around a freed slave in the American South, because Django too is now free of the industry that bred, confined, and shipped him and his brother off to their deaths.
Unlike the rest of his brothers, Rocco somehow managed to survive the accident without sustaining any major injuries, and thus was the only one of the Liber8ed who never visited the hospital. Over a period of a month and a half, Rocco watched his brothers be loaded into our trailer and taken away, some never to return.
Rocco formed a tight bond with his brother Django, and while he didn’t like it when we took anyone to ISU, the day we loaded his best friend into the trailer to join the remaining survivors at the hospital, Rocco began crying out so fiercely that we feared he’d take down our fencing trying to get to Django.
We moved Rocco to a large stall, but upon arriving back home after a few hours found that he’d busted his way out. When we finally brought Django home five days later, Rocco, who’d not been shy in displaying his displeasure with his brothers’ absence, began skipping and bucking around the pasture in the most beautiful happy-cow dance.
Rocco—derived from Italian and Germanic elements meaning “rest”—was named by IFS supporter Kris G, aka the Sentient Beast. With his brother’s home and Django stepping back into his leadership role, Rocco relaxed dramatically. He’s still learning that some humans can be trusted—a lesson that would be understandably difficult to accept when all you’ve ever known from our species is fear, pain, and heartbreak.
If it wasn’t for that accident that day, these boys would have reached their intended destination as planned and been killed, bled out and hacked apart. This fate is harder for us to stomach once we’ve learned their names and heard their stories. However, it’s vital to realize that these eight are no more important than those not so fortunate.
It is not our acknowledgment of their individuality that gives them value. They had value before the crash hurled their bodies into our path. They had value before they were given names; and the more than 822,000 cows whose trucks made it to a slaughterhouse that day2—they too had value; they too had stories; they too were individuals.
— Emily Moran Barwick