Rescue Story

How Compassion, Activism, and Joaquin Phoenix Liberated a Cow and Her Calf

Liberty and Indigo

Rescue Story

How Compassion, Activism, and Joaquin Phoenix Liberated a Cow and Her Calf

It was the weekend of the 92nd Academy Awards when two cows scored the victory of a lifetime.

Liberty, a three-year-old Wagyu cow, was about to face slaughter at a California beef plant. Instead, she gave birth to a baby girl: a life-affirming event that wound up saving them both.

Rather than separate mother from baby—a tragic, yet standard part of animal agriculture—Manning Beef president and CEO Anthony Di Maria felt that they deserved a chance. With his blessing—and along with support from LA Animal Save, documentary filmmaker Shaun Monson, and actor and activist Joaquin Phoenix—we welcomed Liberty and Indigo home to Farm Sanctuary.

“My hope is, as we watch baby Indigo grow up with her mom Liberty at Farm Sanctuary, that we’ll always remember that friendships can emerge in the most unexpected places; and no matter our differences, kindness and compassion should rule everything around us,” Phoenix said on their arrival.

Liberty and Indigo are among several mother-child pairs that Manning Beef has relinquished to nearby sanctuaries. Last year, we also welcomed Jackie: an Angus cow whose ailing calf passed away shortly after their rescue. She and Liberty are now close friends. They’ll stay together for the rest of their lives.
Lives that nearly ended far too soon.


  • Liberty and Indigo—accompanied by rescuer Joaquin Phoenix—arrive at Farm Sanctuary

  • Liberty and Indigo are featured in our Mother's Day celebration through Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Farm Animal Program.

  • Mother and daughter join their new herd.

Joaquin Phoenix carries Indigo during her rescue

The tragically short lives of calves in the beef industry

A cow’s natural lifespan can exceed 20 years. In the beef industry, however, most calves live just 12 to 15 months before heading to slaughter. Their mothers meet the same fate a few years later, once no longer deemed viable for breeding. Liberty was on the younger end of the spectrum: she was only three years old when she arrived at the slaughterhouse.

As the slaughterhouse is an endpoint for cattle, calves born on-site don’t have many options. The sickest are left to die. Meanwhile, others face slaughter for lower-quality meat. Then, there’s what some might consider a more radical option: an industry that profits from animal slaughter could choose to let them live.

Although we cannot rescue our way out of animal agriculture, I hope you will always know Liberty and Indigo as living embodiments of liberation and as ambassadors for a compassionate vegan lifestyle.

Joaquin Phoenix

A soft spot helps spare Liberty and Indigo

And so it was with Di Maria. The slaughterhouse owner has a soft spot for calves born at his facility—perhaps shaped by interactions with LA Animal Save. Since 2017, the group has held vigils outside of Manning Beef—bearing witness to cattle on their way to slaughter, whose lives might otherwise go unseen. The activists show solidarity with these animals, in hopes that others might see them as they do: individuals, not slabs of meat. Together, we are making progress toward that end. Manning Beef is the last operating cattle slaughterhouse in Los Angeles County.

On February 11th, Liberty stepped off our rescue trailer and into her new life at Farm Sanctuary—followed by Joaquin Phoenix, gently cradling daughter Indigo. At first, the cows resided in a private space where they were temporarily quarantined to treat their health issues and to give young Indigo time to grow before meeting the much larger members of the herd.

When separated from their calves, mothers will show signs of distress including pacing, urinating, and constant vocalization.

Nursing Liberty back to health

Liberty arrived with terrible diarrhea from malnutrition. Her former owner had fed her an unnatural diet of corn silage, bread, and beer to bulk her up for slaughter. (A high-fat diet yields the fatty, marbleized flesh in Wagyu-derived Kobe beef.) Meanwhile, cows are natural herbivores, so her new diet at Sanctuary—hay, barley, and orchard—helped her heal.

Liberty enjoys a nutritious meal at Farm Sanctuary

Indigo, for her part, is a strong and healthily growing girl who can nurse from mom whenever she wants—which is both crucial to her physical wellbeing and allows mother and daughter to deepen their bond.

Indigo cow at Farm Sanctuary

Mother and daughter join a joyful new family

Indigo felt comfortable around us from the start. Liberty, while still on the shy side, is growing more at ease herself. It’s amazing to see just how much she’s learned to trust in such a short amount of time—but that’s the power of Sanctuary.

Once Indigo grew a little bigger, we decided it was time to introduce them to their herd. First, we let them meet nose to nose through the gates separating their enclosures. Intrigued, they greeted each other with gentle sniffs and resounding moos!

Then, just days before Mother’s Day, we brought the pair in to meet their new extended family. The introduction went smoothly, and the herd treats its two newest members as their own. Indigo now has playmates in Leo and Dixon—rambunctious young steers both under two years old. Liberty has a new friend in Jackie, who up until now was the sole female of the herd.

Best of all, they have each other—and they will for life.

Special thanks to Joaquin Phoenix and LA Animal Save for helping us make this rescue possible, and to documentary filmmaker Shaun Monson for sharing Liberty and Indigo’s journey with the world.

Update: One year later, on Earth Day, Joaquin Phoenix reunited with the cows he helped rescue. Hear his reflections below:

“Indigo & Liberty: Liberated”

Joaquin Phoenix Reunited with Rescued Mother Cow & Calf for Earth Day
Download Audio


A year ago, I got a call that there was an opportunity to rescue this calf and her mother from a slaughterhouse just outside of Los Angeles. And I had never-- it's a strange thing about this, but I'd never been close to livestock before. So I went down to the slaughterhouse. And the owner decided that he wanted to allow us to rescue this animal.

In addition to not-- having never been around livestock, I'd never been in a slaughterhouse either before. So one of the first things that I noticed when we drove up was the hides of animals hanging on this fence. And there were hundreds upon hundreds, probably thousands, of hides, which is-- obviously made me very uncomfortable.

In this video, released on Earth Day 2021, Joaquin Phoenix reflects on the calf and her mother who he helped liberate from a Los Angeles slaughterhouse with the help of Los Angeles Animal Save almost a year ago, and the environmental realities we’re facing today.

In this powerful video directed by Earthlings Director Shaun Monson, Phoenix reunites with the pair at Farm Sanctuary, the country’s first farm animal sanctuary and advocacy organization.

Connie sheep at Farm Sanctuary

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