cows in Wisconsin have the right away
Wisconsin Statute 346.21 requires motor vehicle operators to yield the right-of-way to livestock. Photo by MI ED on Unsplash

These Wisconsin laws are evidence that we love our cheese and our livestock but that things can definitely get weird here—legally speaking.

Municipal, state, and federal laws often get passed after ample discussion to ensure they make sense. Other times, legislators pass laws hastily for emergencies, often in response to public outcry about a specific issue. Unfortunately, like other states, Wisconsin has not taken swift action to remove laws after an emergency has passed, technology has advanced, or societal views have changed. 

The Badger State still has some weird and outdated laws on the books. Here are a few that will make you go “hmmm.”

(They’re also a good reminder that voting is so important in Wisconsin’s elections. If you’re not registered to vote yet in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, don’t worry: You can still register in person at your municipal clerk’s office through Nov. 4 and vote early or on Election Day).

Cheddar Cheese and Butter Must Be ‘Highly Pleasing’

Photo courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (ATCP) continues to take great measures to protect consumers of the beloved cheese and butter from America’s Dairyland. Chapter 85 in the ATCP administrative code and various parts of Chapter 81 govern how Wisconsin producers must grade and label butter and cheese. Grade AA butter must be “highly pleasing,” Grade A butter must have a “pleasing and desirable butter flavor,” and Grade B butter must have a “fairly pleasing butter flavor.” The ATCP code is similar for grading Wisconsin cheddar cheese and washed cheese curds, but cheese must also be free of undesirable flavors and odors. 

Livestock Have the Right-of-Way

If you have ever driven in rural Wisconsin, this law might not seem strange. The phrase “your barn door is open” refers to far more than one’s pants zipper being down. When driving down roads near farms that raise various types of livestock, cows, pigs, and other farm animals sometimes find themselves in the middle of a busy or not-so-busy road. In the Rules of the Road portion of Wisconsin laws, Statute 346.21 requires motor vehicle operators to yield the right-of-way to livestock. Don’t worry if you encounter animal traffic that won’t move—the owners have to get their cows to moo-ve out of the way!

Cheating on Your Spouse Is a Felony

Those who settled in Wisconsin took the Ten Commandments very seriously, especially the one about not committing adultery. In 1859, one year after Wisconsin became a state, legislators made it a crime to cheat on your spouse or for a single person to have sexual relations with someone who is married. Today the law remains on the books as part of Chapter 944 of Wisconsin Statutes, crimes against sexual morality. Those who break the law face up to a $10,000 fine and two years in prison if convicted. As recently as 1990, a Wisconsin woman was charged under this law. The ACLU argued the law was outdated and prosecutors don’t typically enforce it, but it’s still here. 

Margarine Is Illegal in Restaurants, Schools, Hospitals, and Prisons

Wisconsin completely outlawed selling and using margarine from 1895 to 1967. Once complete prohibition was lifted, some laws remained. Wisconsin legislators attempted to remove them in 2011, but lawmakers loved their Wisconsin butter too much to remove all rules. Under Wisconsin law, restaurants cannot serve margarine unless a customer specifically requests it. The law prohibits people from giving margarine to students, patients, or inmates of any state institution unless a treating physician makes a special request. The strangest, and maybe funniest, thing about this law is that violators risk going to jail for 90 days and a second offense carries up to one year in county jail. 

You Can’t Mess with Flushing Urinals

Photo courtesy of Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

If there is any strange Wisconsin law that might cause you to wonder if our state representatives didn’t have anything better to do during this time, the law about flushing urinals is at the top of the list. Apparently male legislators in Wisconsin hate automatic flushing toilets. Wisconsin Statute 146.22  prohibits the state from creating any rules that directly or indirectly outlaw manual flushing devices for urinals. Until this strange law changes, you will always find urinals with manual flush handles in Wisconsin. 

You Can’t Annoy Neighbors When You Water Your Lawn in Sheboygan

Not all of Wisconsin’s strange laws are statewide. Many cities and towns have strange ordinances still on their books. We’ve picked one of the strangest: You must not sprinkle your property in any manner that distresses or annoys your neighbors if you live in Sheboygan (Sec.70 -153). We aren’t sure exactly what annoys or causes distress. Maybe it’s wasting water in the midst of global climate change. Maybe it’s a sprinkler hitting a fence and causing a water line. Or, maybe it’s that click-click-click sound. In any case, it might be best to bring a six-pack and some cheese curds and make nice with new neighbors before watering your lawn in Sheboygan.