Wisconsin City’s ‘Pioneer Days’ Includes Live Chicken Toss and Pig Chase

In the middle of February for the past 36 years, the town of Ridgeland, Wisc., has hosted a festival called Pioneer Days. It attracts thousands of people as well as many residents of the small town (population 268).

“I’ve been coming here since I’ve been little,” Amy Lundquist told Fox 21 News last year. “I grew up in Ridgeland and this is where we come for cheap entertainment.”

That entertainment includes a horse-drawn parade, a log-sawing competition and a dance — as well as the “Free Chicken Fly,” where over 200 live birds are tossed off a roof to the crowd below, and a “Greased Pig Contest” in which children chase and try to catch pigs in a fenced area.

Here are some highlights – and lowlights — from last year’s Pioneer Days.

The pioneers of Ridgeland probably had the good sense not to throw chickens off a rooftop. This event began in the last half of the 20th century as a way to get rid of roosters that were crowding henhouses, local chicken donor Jim Bruns told the Dunn County News in 2006.

Richard Micheels, a volunteer at last year’s event, told Fox 21 News the event organizers once considered throwing turkeys off the roof. “Because the turkeys were so big, they’d beat up on the little kids, so that wasn’t too successful,” he said. (As terrible as this sounds, live turkeys are actually dropped 1,000 feet from a plane at another festival, the annual Yellville Turkey Trot in Arksansas.)

The chicken toss had been criticized by animal welfare organizations including United Poultry Concerns, the Humane Society of the United States and Animal Law Associates of Wisconsin, according to the Dunn County News story.

“Chickens are very intelligent, sensitive creatures,” said Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, in a press release this year. “They know they are in an atmosphere of meanness and hurtfulness from which they cannot defend themselves.”

Years ago, Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson investigated the chicken toss to see if it was violating two Wisconsin statutes. One defines animal cruelty as “something causing unnecessary and excessive pain or suffering or unjustifiable injury or death,” and the other prohibits animal abandonment – some chicken toss participants didn’t keep the birds they caught, leaving them to wander the town for weeks, according to the Dunn County News.

Based on a short video of the chicken toss that Peterson watched, he decided the birds weren’t being harmed and refused to stop the event. He encouraged anyone who opposed the event to go to there in person, and if they observed mistreatment of the chickens, to take photos or videos and file a complaint with the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office.

In a Facebook post last month, the sheriff’s office said it’s been getting phone calls about the chicken toss and pig chase, but doesn’t understand what the uproar is about.

“The pigs are not injured,” it stated. “The chicken toss involves a chicken being dropped from a one-story building. They are a breed of chicken that can fly to the ground. Those chickens are mostly captured by children and taken home.”

According to the post, deputies at this year’s festival will be “monitoring the events and will make their determination based on facts and use their discretion on how to handle what they observe.” It doesn’t mention whether these deputies happen to be animal welfare experts.

Many people commenting on the sheriff’s office’s post support the chicken toss and greased pig chase, insisting they’re harmless family fun. They dismiss those who’ve complained about it as “snowflakes” who’ve never attended the festival.

But you don’t have to be there in person to understand that it’s cruel and unnecessary to do this to animals as “entertainment.” As animal welfare groups have pointed out, the chicken toss sends the wrong message to children that animals are just objects to be tossed like balls. If you agree, please sign and share this petition asking for the event organizer to stop the Free Chicken Fly and Greased Pig Contest during Pioneer Days.

Photo credit: Sarah Sapp

96 comments

Camilla V
Camilla Vaga2 months ago

noted

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Judy t
Judy t2 months ago

The chickens don't fly to the ground as said by the sheriff. They fly into a loud screaming crowd of stretched out arms waiting to grad, pull, pin down, violently snatch and yank them in every which way breaking their feathers and twisting their necks and legs and to be stepped on by the shoving of the crowd in trying to catch them. Animals are not to be used as a form of entertainment. This is the 21st century and it is now taboo and out-of-date with our modern time. A backwoods town with sillbillys running it.

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Petra Demmers
Petra Demmers2 months ago

And then humans are supposed to have feelings, brains and compassion..............

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Georgina M
Georgina M2 months ago

This is the maximum intelligence of Ridgeland Wisconsin ??????
I can't see Pioneers throwing chickens anywhere least of a roof, or chase pigs, I think they spent their time and energy and INTELLIGENCE working .....very hard to survive.Or am I wrong ?????

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Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

thank you for posting

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

How about tossing the deputies off the roof - after all, it's only a one-storey. The District Attorney will agree to stand in for the pig race.

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joan s
joan silaco2 months ago

When i think of cheap entertainment, i think of something only the deplorables like.

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Jetana A
Jetana A2 months ago

I doubt the animals enjoy the "fun"!

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Sonia M

Petition signed thanks for sharing

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Judith S A
Judith A2 months ago

It's Wisconsin, they had a chance to recall the horrific governor-Walker-and blew it. The white people there yell at Native Americans to go back to where they came from, what do you expect from people like that? Wisconsin used to be somewhat tolerant and progressive, no more. I won't buy anything from Lands End anymore because they are based in Wisconsin and they used to sponsor shows on NPR! Now they're right wing and want women barefoot, pregnant, and illiterate. If people in Wisconsin were kind to animals and would respond to a petition I'd be surprised. I'll sign, but it's a waste.

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