From Commodity to Absurdity: Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day and (Non) Flying Chickens

This past Saturday, 17 February 2018, the 35th annual Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day event took place in Ridgeland, Wisconsin. You probably haven’t heard of it, but let me save you the trouble and get to the point: along with a “greased pig” catching event, this celebration of “pioneer” spirit features a “chicken toss.”

The “toss” is not as banal as it might sound, though. Chickens, who have spent hours in cages with no protection from freezing weather, are carried up to the roof of a one-story building and thrown out to the crowd. Tossing isn’t enough entertainment, of course, so part of the fun is chasing the terrified chickens en masse and grabbing any you can. You catch ’em, you keep ’em.

I’m hoping at this point that you’ll grasp the severity of the problems wrapped up in the basic premise and plan of this “family” event. But let me clarify a few things that might help: 1) most chickens are not capable of flying very well or far, so being hurled from a high spot (onto concrete, no less) is not going to end well for them; and 2) chickens are prey animals, so being handled by strangers and landing in a scrambling crowd of large (mostly drunk, entirely clumsy) mammals is surely even more terrifying than hurling through the air as you struggle to “fly.”

My friend and colleague Quincy Markowitz took part in an effort not only to stop the event and protest as it went on, but also to save as many chickens as possible. They were able to wrest four sick, maimed, and stressed chickens from the crowd… Her firsthand account after the event and accompanying photographs are heart crushing:

Today, I am going to tell you all some horrible stories and share some awful images. I am so sorry to have to even make this post, as I know it will bring tears and frustration.

All four of our rescued chickens are doing well and recovering from their abuse. We will have more follow up on them this week.

For now, we need to talk about the victims we couldn’t save. I will tell some stories of pictures I did not get, and some that have pictures to accompany them.

We arrived yesterday at Ridgeland Pioneer Days at 11am. Almost immediately, I heard a child telling his dad about the chicken he will catch, and how he will feed him grass until he dies and they eat him.

We stood in the crowd as we waited for the event to begin. Most people were drinking beer, there were many children. Right as the throwing was about to happen, people started chanting “feed us!”

It was a whirlwind. The crowd was ferocious, battling for chickens, grabbing them by their necks and wings. When one would fly into the bar wall across the street out of panic, the crowd laughed.

I saw a rooster on an awning, terrified, trying to stay away from people. Children threw snowballs at him until he fell off.

I saw two children and an adult stuff their chicken into a plastic bag. These chickens are said to be pets and well taken care of, but we watched them die there.

I saw two women force-feed a chicken beer for a photo op before posing for the picture kissing her on the beak.

A friend told me of a rooster caught with a broken foot. I found the man who caught him and asked for him to be surrendered to us. The man told me that he will be kept if he can mate with his hens, and then he will be eaten. They would not give him to me.

My friend, Steph, saw a rooster with severely swollen feet and wattles consistent with fresh frost bite. These chickens suffered frostbite within the 24 hours before the event.

We have so much more evidence and so many more stories to be revealed, so please keep following us and PLEASE, start planning to come to Wisconsin next year and show up wth us to stop this event.

The icing on the cake was, as I was leaving with my sweet Dolly in my arms, crying and frustrated, a group of men catcalled me. They asked if I was single and what I was up to later. I should not be surprised at any level of degradation these monsters are capable of, but somehow I was taken aback, not expecting myself to be victim to their abuse.

This is a so called “family friendly” event. I feel sick for the children being raised in this environment.


I’m grateful to Quincy and others for braving that horrible event and saving those they could.

Is any of this worse than what happens to chickens and other farmed animals in animal agriculture? No, it isn’t. Is it more wrong and violent and exploitative than so many other forms of so-called “entertainment” that use the bodies of animals for human titillation? No, it isn’t.

Still, I am utterly dumbstruck at this ridiculousness not just because it shows some of the worst side of humanity. Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day’s “chicken toss” event also reveals just how little value chickens have as commodities for humans; as commodities, there really isn’t anything humans can’t do to them.

If you look closely, what you see is that people who have already neglected their chickens (see Goby’s untreated sinus infection and Shrimp’s untreated frostbite?) dumped unwanted (not primarily useful/profitable) animals knowing full well what would happen to them…and not caring.

Not even not caring: DEFENDING what happens to them. As amusing as the flying, terrified chickens were to some people, even more hilarious was the effort to speak out against this absurd cruelty. Indeed, chicken farmers specifically wanted everyone to know how well the chickens are treated, and since they’re just food anyway what does it matter? That’s what chickens are FOR, right?

Human beings rationalize, justify, and excuse many of the things we do to animals via arguments about necessity–biological, financial, cultural, ecological. There’s no justification that holds water, in my mind, but ideally it’s a conversation that can happen with a reliance upon a wide set of facts and experiences.

It is also important to realize that an extension of our commodification of living beings under our domination for food (and so on) is a sense of free reign and impunity. We lock chickens and other “food” animals into the ontological position of being consumables, and doing so guarantees that many humans will feel entitled to use them in any way whatsoever, for whatever reason.

Shit like this “chicken toss” is scarily irrefutable, though, because its absurdity lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with our needs or the animals’ lives and everything to do with human callousness, with our willingness to abuse our power over others in ways that have no actual “value” or purpose other than diverting us from our boredom. This event is the equivalent of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass and sunlight.

There were children here, yes, but this time the metaphorical magnifying glass was being held by adults who bear the full moral responsibility for their actions. There is no situation in which this event cannot be considered cruelty to animals, something that would get you arrested had you been chucking chihuahuas onto the concrete below…

It’s worth mentioning that there were law enforcement officers at the event on Saturday.

They were there to monitor the protestors.

Published by

Justin Van Kleeck

I am a vegan (since 1999), a curious skeptic, a bookworm, a nature lover, and your garden-variety neurotic. My wrestling with chaos manifests as writing and, with my wife, tending our friends the plants and spending quality time with our rescued furry kids. I am fun at parties (because I am never there) and so unique that I am easy to forget. So take that, modernity.

One thought on “From Commodity to Absurdity: Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Day and (Non) Flying Chickens”

  1. There are no words to express the shock and horror I feel about this…. as well as everything else humans do to animals everywhere. Humans treatment of animals is nothing less than insane and pure evil.

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