By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Animal rights activists have a big problem with a small-town tradition in Wisconsin.

Hundreds, if not thousands, will gather in the streets next month to break up the long winter. As part of the celebration, there will be a chicken toss. Any attendees that catch the chickens being tossed from the roof get to keep the fowl.

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“It all started as something kind of stupid to break up the winter, and we’re almost 40 years into it,” resident Dan Knutson said.

This year will mark the 38th Pioneer Day in Ridgeland — which will take place on Feb. 15 — and other events in the annual tradition include greased pig catching and silver dollar hunting. It’s a festival where old friends meet.

(credit: CBS)

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Opponents are speaking out against the festival’s treatment of animals. Milwaukee Attorney Kristin Schwank is leading the push to stop the tradition she calls “disturbing.”

“I think animals deserve to be treated better,” Schwank told WCCO. “We really shouldn’t be using them for human entertainment.”

In fact, more than 145,000 people have signed a petition in agreement. The population of Ridgeland is 273, at the last census.

Some people in Ridgeland argue the toss doesn’t hurt the chickens. And most of the improvements across town, such as a veterans’ memorial, have been paid for by Pioneer Day profits.

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“It’s odd, but it’s fun,” Knutson said.

Erin Hassanzadeh