Promised Land Farm owners Lori and Rob Gamble, of Carlton, received backlash on social media after claiming responsibility for releasing hundreds of live Hy-line Brown commercial chickens into the wild on two occasions.

The first reported dumping took place Sept. 12 in a secluded wooded property near Carlton. Passersby observed nearly 115 chickens that showed signs of starvation and dehydration. The finding prompted a call to Carlton County native Kyleen Pedersen, a niece of Rob and Lori Gamble through marriage, who drove to the location from her home in Pine City. Pedersen and her husband rounded up the chickens — a process that took well over four hours .

Pedersen then used her connections with the Facebook group Duluth Chicken Club, a group dedicated to answering questions and providing tips about caring for the birds, to find homes for the displaced chickens. Within 24 hours of the roundup, all 115 birds were rehomed.

Pedersen was unable to help corral the nearly 200 chickens abandoned a month later in an open field near County Road 4 in Carlton, but the network of people from the Facebook group once again sprung into action after Pedersen shared photos. Before long, the second group of birds, also showing signs of starvation and dehydration, found new homes. Since the birds were rehomed, Pedersen reported that many have produced eggs for their new owners.

The Gambles do not deny dumping the chickens, and said the reason for doing so was because the birds were no longer laying eggs at the same rate they once did, rendering them useless in a commercial setting. Unable to afford to keep them around as pets, the Gambles elected to set the spent hens free into the wild instead of euthanizing them.

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Pictured are a group of Hy-line Brown chickens that were dumped in an open field in Carlton in October 2021. 
Contributed / Kyleen Pedersen
Pictured are a group of Hy-line Brown chickens that were dumped in an open field in Carlton in October 2021. Contributed / Kyleen Pedersen

The decision ignited a firestorm of criticism on the Promised Land’s Facebook page, with 21 users weighing in on the Gambles' decision and leaving one-star reviews. The Gambles' action was also reported to the Carlton County Sheriff's Office. However, law enforcement officials did not return messages left by the Pine Journal.

For Rob Gamble, the negative response was not surprising, as he said the day-to-day decisions made by farmers aren’t always fully understood by those outside the farming community.

“It does not surprise me, because there are people who have different opinions. People who are either farming or grew up on a farm have understood our predicament very well and expressed that, and then there are those who have never farmed and perhaps don’t even know where the meat they buy in the grocery store comes from,” he said.

“They just know that it’s hot dogs and that’s a chicken leg and stuff like that, and so they just don’t think about where it comes from and what happens on a farm,” Gamble added.

While the decision can't be reversed, the Gambles are optimistic about exploring options if the situation arises again next year. The market for spent hens in a commercial setting is limited, but in years past, the Carlton County Chicken Swap has been a useful outlet to sell the chickens, Gamble said. If the Gambles can't find anyone to buy chickens, members of the Duluth Chicken Club have pledged to take them or assist in rehoming them if the Gambles are willing to give them away.

“We certainly want to get in contact with (them), or have people get in contact with us, so it’s something that will happen one way or another for sure,” Gamble said. “It’s just been a beneficial experience for us to go through this all.”

However, Pedersen said she is skeptical the Gambles will follow through in pursuing alternative options for dealing with spent hens.

“People are infuriated right now, and I just feel like they had no remorse,” Pedersen said. “Honestly, I could see them doing it again, just in a different spot.”

Gamble said anyone interested in homing chickens in the future can join an email list by entering their information at promisedlandfarmmn.com/contact.