Udder nightmare: Cows roam metro Atlanta hours after truck tips

89 beef calves involved in crash; 11 animals killed

It’s not every day that cows roam freely on the interstate. But in metro Atlanta, it’s happened three times in less than five months.

Crashes involving livestock have claimed the lives of 24 cows since mid-May, including 11 on Monday. Shortly before 4 a.m., a trailer hauling 89 commercial beef calves tipped over on the I-285 East ramp at the I-75 interchange in Cobb County, creating a traffic disaster for hours. Some of the calves were trapped in the wreckage, but most escaped, temporarily roaming until they could be corralled. By 4 p.m., there were no more cows on the lam, according to police. The last wayward animal proved the trickiest to catch and escaped a second time before being captured Monday evening.

Not all of the animals were so fortunate. Some were struck by motorists, who likely weren’t expecting roaming bovines on the interstate during pre-dawn hours, or ever. No drivers were seriously injured. But the sights and sounds likely frightened the calves, which sent them scattering, according to Will Bentley, executive vice president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association.

Cobb County firefighters worked with saws and extrication tools to free the cows pinned in the truck Monday morning after a crash set cows loose to roam on the interstate.  JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

“There were a lot of bright lights around that they wouldn’t be used to in a normal farm setting,” Bentley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If they had been older, they probably wouldn’t have scattered as far.”

The Georgia farming community is a close one, Bentley said, and after hearing the news, many wanted to help get the cows to safety.

“They all understand that these animals were scared and at risk,” he said. “A lot of the cowboys were really concerned about the health of the animals.”

Two previous incidents involving cows and Atlanta interstates — one in May and one in June — involved larger cows. On May 19, a tractor-trailer hauling 19 cows overturned on I-75 south before 5 a.m., killing 10 animals. Then on June 8, three cows were killed in a DeKalb County crash.

“All of them have been first thing in the morning so it’s affected the driving commute,” Julie McPeake, Georgia Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said Monday.

The crash Monday morning involved more animals because they were smaller, Bentley said.

Those hauling livestock must adhere to strict weight rules, according to Bentley, a cattle farmer in Upson County. A livestock trailer, along with all of the animals being towed, must weigh no more than 84,000 pounds, he said.

“It doesn’t matter how many head there are,” Bentley said. “It’s based on their weight.”

The calves likely weighed between 400 and 600 pounds each, McPeake said

The animal rights group PETA issued a statement late Monday saying all crashes involving animals could be avoided if people stopped eating meat.

“PETA is calling for the intrepid cow reportedly still on the loose to be spared the slaughterhouse knife and sent to a sanctuary — as all these gentle animals should have been — and on all humans to keep cows, pigs, and chickens off the roads by keeping them off their plates,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in an emailed statement.

Though Monday’s crash remains under investigation, experts say interstate ramps and construction already pose a challenge for those not traveling daily on metro Atlanta interstates. Also, animals can shift the weight being hauled, making it easier for trailers to tip, Bentley said.

Despite the recent string of crashes, millions of cows are safely moved through Georgia every year, Bentley said.

“It’s very, very rare for there to be any accident involving cattle,” he said.

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