Ridgeland is a village in Dunn County, Wisconsin with a population of 275 at the time of the 2010 census. It is 1,092 above sea level, and consumes 274 square acres of space. This is interesting solely because an average of one person takes up their own acre of space, an accommodating set-up to say the least.
Each winter, Ridgeland hosts an event called “Pioneer Days,” that features various small-town festivities such as: the Greased Pig Contest (whereby kids and women attempt to catch oily pigs), the Free Chicken Fly, Silver Dollar Treasure Hunt, a Horse Drawn Parade, Crosscut Contest, Log Skidding Demonstration, a Bake Sale, and a Barbecued Pork and Chicken Lunch. The event is sponsored by the Drunk’n Monkey Bar and Hotel. (For the record, I’m making none of this up. It’s all free information, available to the public).
Last winter, I happened upon a Facebook petition condemning (you guessed it!) the Free Chicken Fly. The angry description of the event was clearly penned in the heat of the moment:
“…over 200 live chickens will be tossed, one by one, into a crowd of attendees. Each person (adult or child) who catches a chicken gets to keep the chicken.
This event, which takes place outdoors in the middle of cold Wisconsin winter, is horribly cruel to the chickens and teaches children that animals are no more than objects, such as a ball. Furthermore, there is a huge concern about what will happen to the chickens who now must go home with someone who most likely has no proper shelter for her.
Wisconsin Crimes Against Animals statute 951.02 states that "no person may treat any animal, whether belonging to the person or another, in a cruel manner".
As if this isn't bad enough, during the same event pigs are frightened and chased by large groups of children. Another example of the meanness of this event.
Please sign this petition demanding that this ridiculous, cruel, and insensitive event is canceled.”
Grammatical errors aside, I was intrigued by the controversy this petition inspired. We all know that no one has a filter in online comment forums, and the responses to the petition varied from, “LOL, chickens can fly” to “That’s so mean! Next they’ll be throwing cats and dogs!” Some arguments spiraled into deep philosophical beliefs about animal cruelty, from “If you wear leather, you are part of the problem” to “Those chickens are treated better than the ones on factory farms” to “What a bunch of inbred, backwoods hillbillies!"
Of course, I don’t condone animal cruelty, and of course I don’t consider chasing pigs and throwing chickens a stellar use of time. But whoever said, “chickens can fly” makes a good point. Some of the chickens allegedly fly away from the crowd's outstretched arms and sit in trees, Far from the Madding Crowd.
When I first read the petition, I laughed. Not because I harbor any affection for the small festival, but because it all seems so utterly ridiculous. Some things are worth large amounts of frustration and anger. A small-town festival in the dead of winter is not one of them, especially given the fact that none of the animals have ever really been hurt. There are real people (and animals, for that matter) in real distress. Maybe some of our anger ought to be directed at the systems that allow approximately 2.5 million American children to remain homeless, 3.2 million Americans to remain uninsured, and 44 million Americans to hold a combined $1.5 trillion in student debt, under the pretense that the debt was the only way out of the poverty they are now still suffocating beneath. A chicken toss, in the grand scheme of all grand schemes, is nothing to lose sleep over.
It is, however, felicitous to recognize that there are nicer ways to have fun, that don't involve tossing chickens off a tin roof. If I were an organizer of the festival, I would have a chicken-grooming contest , or I'd teach the pigs a neat trick, like how to fetch the newspaper (oh right, those don’t exist anymore), or how to whip up a nice piece of avocado toast.
Perhaps because I was raised in a town less than 30 miles from Ridgeland, I have the distinct impression that those who attend the festival will never take this petition seriously. If they do not find it ridiculous, they are likely insulted by the thought of some self-righteous outsiders attempting to change their way of life, which believe it or not, involves tossing and catching and lovingly roasting a fowl.
Those chickens might be treated as a beloved pet by some excited little kid who nurtures the bird into old age. The chicken might be what’s for dinner. The chicken is not, however, slowly bleeding to death, being burned alive, dumped in acid, or starving to death. And even if you don’t agree philosophically with consuming animals due to horrendous factory farming practices, overcrowding, hormone-injected food, et cetera, it is reasonable to recognize that most Americans are not giving up their protein-rich diets anytime soon, especially if animal rights activists and PETA-enthusiasts keep screaming their well-meaning heads off.