Roadside memorials to honor crash victims are nothing new. But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is going a step further to recognize livestock killed in a truck crash outside Madras.

The animal rights group is paying for billboard space along U.S. Highway 26 to memorialize 14 calves that died when the truck they were riding in rolled onto its side March 12 near milepost 6.

A PETA spokeswoman said the nonprofit also purchased similar billboards following recent cattle truck crashes in Tennessee and Louisiana.

Amber Canavan said the organization hopes the advertisement gets at least one person to consider going vegan.

“Even if it just gets people talking about it,” she said. “Because a lot of people don’t know about what’s going on.”

According to PETA, beef and dairy cattle suffer at every stage of their lives, from calving to the slaughterhouse. Canavan said cattle are often transported in extreme weather and without food and water.

“Most of the time, people don’t see these things because they’re going on behind locked doors. You might look over at the truck going by on the road and not know,” she said. “This actually gives us a glimpse of some of the things that the meat industry tries to keep secret.”

The billboard will feature a cow next to the words “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the individual. Go Vegan.”

The billboard space hasn’t yet been rented, but Canavan said it will be rented for one month.

At around 2:45 p.m. March 12, a truck driven by Dennis Cayer, of Washington, had tipped onto its side on Highway 26. The truck was hauling 84 head of cattle. First responders had to access the truck by sawing holes in the top to get to the surviving livestock inside.

A typical cattle truck can only carry at most around 45 adult cattle, according to Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. This is why Rosa thinks the cows in the truck were almost certainly calves.

It’s also the middle of calving season, he said.

Central Oregon is home to many cattle ranches. In 2012, Crook County sold $27.8 million in cattle and calves, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jefferson County ranchers sold $14 million in cattle and calves and Deschutes County sold $5.8 million.

Rosa said beef cattle ranchers take great care in transporting their animals. Water and food breaks are taken regularly, and shipments typically take place at the coolest times of day — morning and evening.

These measures are taken in part to reduce weight loss. In animal agriculture, Rosa said, lost weight means lost revenue.

“These guys use the most environmentally sound conditions they possibly can,” Rosa said. “It’s in their best interest, and the animal’s best interest, to maintain that weight.”

Rosa objected to PETA’s characterization of beef and dairy industry practices.

“It’s so not true,” he said. “The care of the animals is a rancher’s top priority.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,