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steers, gelding, superstitions, Lancaster County, folk cures, weather lore, animal lore, boars


A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Steers: Superstitions Relating to", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated April 12, 1952. Within, Dieffenbach details various superstitions surrounding the practice of gelding, including ways to induce proper healing and warnings of death post-surgery.

Corresponds to:

Packet 577 a-204-15 to a-204-19


“We der schnitter doot cooma, gate der buel ons brumma!”

(When the gelder comes, the bull starts to grumble.) Years ago, on a farm near Mt. Aetna - “Wohlaiver-shteddle” a farmer had a bull-calf that he wanted to have castrated. When the gelder started to make a cut, the bull tore loose, and ran off. Not being able to get him again, the farmer said: “Luss en schpringa mer greega ihn en onner mohl.” (Let him run - we’ll get him another time.)

As soon as that bull-calf saw old Mogel coming up the road with the old white mare in the sulky, he ran around the field along the fence, and hollered, and made an awful racket.

Some said he belonged to Ike Haas, and others said John Stamm owned the bull - both farms were adjoining, and they did not know which one owned him. But old Bingaman told me about it while we were husking corn for a farmer in that neighborhood, years after it had occurred. But the bull always remained unchanged, because of the resentment he showed whenever he saw the familiar team appearing.

Old-Bingaman said: “Ya, des iss so wohr os en Gott iss; usht welleve os der bull wawr, sell dort wase Ich net!“ (Yes, this is as true as there is a God; only to which one the bull belonged - that I don’t know.) But to this day one hears the above quoted expression.

If a shoat or full-grown boar is cut while in the waning of the moon - “im ob-nemmeda”, he will die, from the effects of the operation.

If the nuts or testicles, after being removed, are left lying on the ground, or any place where it will rain on them, then the animal will swell badly, and may die. (These two were standard folk-lore in this section years ago.)

If a dog or a cat or any animal eats these glands after they have been removed, the animal that had been cut will die. (Old Mogel, the veteran gelder.)

If the gelder throws each of the nuts - “de shtay” over his left shoulder, as he removes them, then the animal will not swell, and will quickly recover.

If the gelded animal can lie down on the bare ground and have his rear end in such a position that a full-moon can shine on the wound, it will heal in short order. (A gelder that came from Lancaster Co. Graybill by name.)

If three crows fly overhead while any animal is being castrated, it will surely die. (Same author as above.)

If a black cat sits close by and watches the gelder then the animal being operated on will die. (anonymous)

“Won der evver sei ferschnittner seckel in sell eck in selly shpinna-neshter nei-rennt, no iss er gly goot.” (If the boar will ram his cut up scrotum into that corner into the cobwebs he will soon be well.) This last one was told by John Wunderlich, a big red-bearded man, who used to work for Dad years ago, after he had helped to castrate a big boar. Cobwebs were often put on a wound to stop the bleeding, in those days.

Never have any pigs “cut”- castrated during rainy weather; they will get locked-jaw, and will die. (Standard)

We often experienced the contrary to the above, as the wet and damp condition of stables and pens would lay all dust, and prevent many infecting germs from gaining access to the wounds. I remember when our customary gelder failed to arrive as intended, owing to him having been taken sick. Dad had eight sows that gave birth to some sixty pigs, within two weeks time. It was a rainy spell, and as he had heard of rain being beneficial, because of some germs possibly being thus prevented from infecting the piggies, so he was anxious to give this a trial. I do not know who had told him about it, but I do know that we both had read the same thing in a little live-stock paper, called “Blooded-Stock”, published at Oxford, Pa.

It still rained nearly every day, for the second week, and as the gelder didn’t come, I one day asked Dad if he cared if I cut the boars in just one litter. He studied for a few minutes and said: “Iss dei messer scharreff?” (Is your knife sharp?)

I handed it to him and he passed his thumb over the edge, nodded his head, handed it back to me, and went for the pig-pen. He caught and held one, and I deftly did the required job; 4 out of 9 were boars, and we had 4 nice and lively barrows by the end of the week.

Now gaiva mer draw,” (Now we go at it) he said. “Won aure pawr fer-recka - en oldta Mogel gaiva aure dole dote.” (Even if a few die - some also die for old Mogel.)

So we cleaned up on the job; some thirty in all were operated on. The last litter were seven, and four of them were boar-pigs, and they were only three days old. Out of that bunch all but three survived; and the old experienced gelder had sometimes lost over 50% of them.

When once we saw the results, Dad was overjoyed; he said: “Now gevvich ken daw drum won er coomt.” (Now I don’t give a damn when he comes.) I have “cut” lots of pigs since that initial trial with very little loss. I never cut into the testicle if I can avoid it; I still think the pain and shock to their nervous system from that cruel and needless incision is the cause of more deaths from castration than any other contributing factor. I have repeatedly seen experienced gelders cutting the glands almost in half and had one of my own shoats die from the effects of it within less than three minutes after the cut had been made.

Some old gelders would ask for lard and/or tar, to smear on the wound. One of them always asked for coal-oil to pour into the wound. Personally I prefer to use pine-tar or any disinfectant to put close to the wound, but never into it. But I want a knife with a super-fine edge, and a bucket with a luke-warm solution of some dis-infectant to dip my knife into after each cut, before making the next one.


English and Pennsylvania German

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Dieffenbach on Steers: Superstitions, April 12, 1952



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