Document Type

Book Chapter



Download Full Text (6.8 MB)




butchering, spring house, beef-gall, hogs, scalding trough, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect


A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Butchering-Time on the Farm", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated June 20, 1952. Within, Dieffenbach provides a detailed account of traditional ways of butchering pigs, ranging from the killing process to the cleaning of entrails for sausage casings.

Corresponds to:

Packet 577 a-206-50 to 577 a-206-59


Butchering-time on the Farm.

The Butcher day - “der Butcher-dawg.”

Butchering-day on the farm, in the olden times, was a wonderful occurrence. Many famers, when it all was finished, would tell the butcher: “ya well! Des naigscht yohr sullsht do witter but dura fer mich uff der dawg!“ (Yes well! Next year you shall again butcher for me on this day) meaning on the same day of the same month.

Long before daylight the big iron kettles were filled with water, and a fire built underneath. These “eisa-kessel” (iron-kettles) were either hung up out of doors “om kessel-blatz” (outdoor-fire place) or in a “summer- heisel”- (Summer-house) or “im schpring-haus”. (spring-house). The latter was most convenient of all, since the water could just be dipped out of the spring alongside one wall. These kettles were hung by means of a “fire-hoal” (trammel) or were set upon a “drei-foos” (tripod).

Breakfast on butchering-day would be an hour or so ahead of the customary time of this meal; and before it was over, came the butcher - “der oldt Hen Artz” (old Henry Artz.) He was a little old man; (see Fig. 5 Plate 1) he was very peculiar in his ways.

“Er waur en execkter ding“! (He was a very exact person) my father would say. The nail back of the door for his hat; the corner beside the chimney-fire-place for his gun, or the little closet for his “gum-shoe” (rubbers) or de ivver-shoe” (arctics) all there had their relative places in his home. And as he was at home, so was he while doing all the various chores pertaining to “an oldt-fraukisch bauers gschlocht” (an old-fashioned farmer’s slaughtering.)

“Gook usht mull we er de shunka so shay rundt rous schneidta doot!” (Just look how nice and round he cuts out the hams!) Old Sarah Wolf would say.

Breakfast over, old Henry got his “messera-shade” (box or case of knives) and we all started for “der sei-shtoll” (the pig-sty). Dad had a short rope - perhaps several yards long, and as he walked he tied “en schlupp” (a slip-knot) in it. Arrived at the pig-pen he laid the loop on the floor, and had a hog step into it with the hind foot; and “wootsch!” He had pulled the rope taut; the hog could now be driven in thru the back-yard, and closer to the “bree droke” (scalding-trough) which was standing near to the fire-place. Here the hog was thrown on the ground, and held down by the helpers. “Hanner, shtech see” (Henry, stick it) I cried out. He plunged the sharp, two-edged “shtech-messer” (sticking-knife) into the hogs throat up to the hilt; when he withdrew it, a crimson stream of blood spurted out. I can still hear those hogs scream, and grunt and yelp and gurgle, as they would go around in a circle, dyeing the snow with their life-blood, until they got too weak to cry out, or keep on their feet any longer, and would finally drop and expire.

Brutal ways of killing

Many a time did I see a hog stuck with a knife in her throat in the hog-pen; then she was let up, and was driven on her way to the scalding-trough until she would drop from loss of blood; and then they would drag her the few remaining yards. While witnessing these brutal and unwarranted instances of torture, I finally came to the conclusion that there was a more humane and merciful way of doing it. So one day old Henry was accidentally hurt by the bull falling on his leg, and we got another butcher to take his place. This was a young fellow, and he had a rifle (a 22 caliber) and he shot the hogs before they were stuck.

But back to the butchering. Henry would take the sticking knife, and with the point he would prick the hog’s fetlock; if she did not move, then poor piggy was dead - beyond all pain of torture - a martyr to humanity’s inhumanity to the animals he had raised. “See kickt net”, (she don’t kick) he said; so she went into the trough. This had two “hobble-ketta” (hobble-chains) or “bree-ketta” (scalding-chains) so called from hand-holds at each end, resembling a hobble; these chains were laid in the trough cross-wise so the hog could be turned. The trough was laid on its side, and the hog was rolled into it, and placed on its belly, with the front feet forwards and the hind feet under it. Finely powdered rosin or wood-ashes were now liberally sprinkled on the hog, to aid in loosening the bristles and also loosen any dirt and filth on the skin. A tub-full of boiling water is now poured over it; if the hog is very young, a bucket-full of cold water is added right after this, or she will be “ferbreet” (par-boiled) as the tender skin of a young hog will not bear too much scalding. When this occurs, some of the skin will come off with the bristles, while the latter, in some patches, will seem to be imbedded in cement, so they can hardly be removed any more. I have seen a hog that had to all appearances been dead, jump out of the trough, and run away when the boiling water was poured over her poor body.

I heard my grandfather related how an old farmer was following a dead hog, being dragged along by two of his stalwart sons; the old man wore a pair of brand new cow-hide boots. Now many a farmer prided himself as much on his “kesht-aichna-shtiffel” (cow-hide and oak-tanned boots) as he did on his back teeth. So, while old Gust F__ came lumbering along, a shoat running around followed him, and making a dive, bit into the leg of the new boot. Old Gust also made a dive; when he came up he had the piggy with one hand, and sticking the knife into its throat, he flung it, squealing, into the scalding water in the trough, saying: “Do beissht niemann may!” (You won’t bite anybody anymore.)

Two men turn the hog in the trough with the two chains, grasping a handle of each end with one hand, and then keeping time, and making a see-sawing-like back and forth motion they roll that hog from side to side so all sides will be equally scalded. With a “heave an a ho” they swing her completely around, on her back, and all four feet up in the air. “Bye mitt da schauver”- (Get the scrapers Fig. 6) and there the chains are dropped, and each grabs a scraper and goes to work removing the bristles. If properly scalded they pull out by hand-fulls, very easily. The rest are scraped off; first of all the legs are cleaned, while the butcher remains at the head and cleans it of bristles as much as possible in a few minutes. Then it is again rolled, and another side is exposed and cleaned, and so on; and now most of the bristles have been removed. The “sei-drayger” or “sei-bawra” (the hog’s-bier) is put alongside, and one end of hobbles are hooked over side-bar of the bier; two stalwart sons of the soil now pull and roll the hog from the trough unto the bier. This task is just a trifle with light-weight hogs, but for the kind that old Frank Reedy at Stouchsburg and Billy Schoener, at Cross Keys, and Charley Stamm of Mt. Aetna used to kill years ago, weighing when dressed from 300 up to 700 Ibs. and over, when dressed, then it is far from being a picnic.

Now some water out of the scalding-trough is poured over it, and the carcass is shaved clean with sharp butcher knives. A helper pours clean water over the hog’s hind legs and the butcher makes a cut from the hooves upwards on the hind most side of the leg, and with his fingers, loosens the big tendon underneath the skin.

“Grick 's haisa huls” (Get the gambrel-stick). This is a piece of oak-wood, from 2 ½ to 4 foot long; at the middle it is about 3 inches wide, and is tapered towards both ends, which are notched. (See Fig. 1.)

It is slipped with one end under the leg-tendons, and pushed thru until the other end can be inserted under the tendons on other leg. Both legs are now pulled apart until the tendons rest in the notches, thus spreading the hog’s rear legs apart, to facilitate gutting it. Some people call it a “spreader”.

Next the “sei-golgya” (hog-gallows) is set up; three poles of wood, usually maple, ash, or hickory, each about 12 feet long are peeled and are slightly flattened on 2 sides at the upper ends. A hole is bored near the end of each pole and a big bolt is loosely run thru. Each leg is now held by one man - they are taken about six feet apart and each leg placed in a hole cut into the frozen ground to prevent slipping. One extends the middle pole towards the rear, forming a tripod. Two men now carry the bier under this gallows which is lowered so the ends of the gambrel can be put on pegs in the gallows poles, the man in the rear pushes on his pole, and the carcass is raised up until it swings clear of the ground.

The butcher now reaches for “der shtawl” (the butcher’s steel) and gives his knife a good whetting. He now inserts it into the hole where the hog had been stuck and with one circular swinging cut he cuts all around the hog’s neck. Putting the “reesel-hoka” (snout-hook) into the hogs upper jaw, he grabs one ear, gives a jerk, a twist and a twirl and the head comes off with a final twist and a grunt. A bucket or two of cold water is now sloshed over the hog.

“Geb acht - Ich shitt”, old Reedy once cried. (Take care boys, I’m going to slosh it.) but he dumped it before he ever yelled to us. This water is scraped off clean with knives in downward strokes; she is given a final rinsing. Hanner now cuts off the hog’s tail, and if a sow, all the nipples. Next he makes a gentle cut from the hog’s back-door down to her throat, all the way thru the middle of the bely; this cut is not deep, just exposing the thin membrane covering the guts; he makes a small opening at top, inserts his finger and tears the membrane open all the way down letting the guts roll out and hang half-way down. He cuts thru “the eiss-bay” (pelvis or pubic bone) by putting the point of the knife in exact middle of the bone and hammering on it with the first. He must be very careful, for back of the bone lies the big gut or colon; “der gross daureur”, or “der orsch-daureur (big-gut) some call it. Once the bone is severed he cuts all around “des orsch-luch” (the back-door or rectum) and draws the gut out; a helper ties a string around it, several inches from the end, and it is cut off and thrown away. If the animal was a sow the womb is now removed; this is not used and is thrown to the dogs and the cats. If it is ever left with the guts “de butcher-weiver” (women-helpers) would tease and scold the butcher for his misdeeds. If the hog was a barrow (en barrig) the “schpitz” (penis) will be removed entire, cutting it loose at rear end and pulling it out and down to the “novel” (navel); here the cut is made on both sides of the navel, a knot is tied into it, forming a loop, and it is ready to hang in the wood-shed for greasing the buck-saw.

“Won der hundt der sei-novel mull im moul cot hut no iss er nix may waart” (Once the dog had the hog’s navel in his mouth it is no good any more) meaning that the dog will have ate it up. But my old Tip (a pug dog) when my grandfather and dad were building a shed, and Tip saw the cows were getting close and he was afraid one might devour this “sei-novel”, so he took it in his teeth, went up to the top of a big lumber pile, and after the cows left he brought it safely down again. Fer-sei! Sell iss wohr!” (I’ll be jiggered (?) that is true!)

Two men now hold a tub or bushel basket under the guts and old Hanner removes them, and also the stomach. He must “such der schlundt” (hunt the esophagus) and pull it out all the way from the neck into the abdominal cavity first having tied it into a knot to prevent the contents from draining out; it goes all the way from the mouth or throat to the stomach. This basket is now carried into the summer house or farm-kitchen, and dumped on the table. The women remove “des daarem-fett” (fat of the entrails) which some folks will soak in water and put it with the other lard, and it is just as good; the others, the finicky kind, they use it for boiling soap or feed it to the chickens and the dogs.

When the fat has been removed they are taken out on the manure-pile, where they are cut into 2 yard lengths and emptied of their gruesome contents by pouring hot water in at one end and flushing them out; they are then “letts-gemocht” (turned inside out) by means of a “wen-shtecka” (turning stick) a thin very straight rod of hard wood, very straight and tough and smooth. Old Sarah Wolf was for many years my Dad’s main helper at butchering time when he was doing it on a big scale, going to market. She always had her own “shtecka” with her - she wouldn’t use any other. And one time she told the other women: “Er iss so glott os ew hucht sich s__z”. (It is as smooth as a wedding-nites --)

These guts are then laid on a board that is slant-wise in a bucket of warm water and are scraped with a “schleiss-huls”- a wooden small wooden utensil, carved to fit a womans hand and having a notch on the lower edge; with this notch placed over the gut on the board, the gut is scraped and washed until all the inside lining has been removed, leaving all the thin outside membrane, which is very tough; this must be in an unbroken condition, so they can be used as casing for stuffing with sausage meat. Sometimes it happens that the hogs entrails had been injured by worms, and when cleaned are full of holes, and hence are worthless for the purpose intended.

Old Sarah would say: “De seta boll mull souver sei” (These should soon be clean); then she would put one end close to her mouth and blow into the partly cleaned gut; it would inflate like a toy balloon and she could see if it was fit to be used or if she had to scrape it some more.

It was a tedious job; but once they were clean - my oh my! They knew naught of salted casing that one buys now a days at a butcher’s shop or meat-market.

The butcher was now engaged in taking out the rest of “the inga-wei” (the internal organs or the viscera) the gall bladder was removed by pulling it loose from the liver. Many farmers saved all of these for future use. Some would use the contents as a salve for frost bite. Some put beef-gall on the bark of young fruit trees to prevent rodents from gnawing the bark. Old Jake Ruth always had a beef gall in the front of the cow-stable, hanging on the wall; when I asked him he just smiled and said: “'S coomt nix weashles nei so lung os sell dort herekt” (Nothing ugly comes in here as long as that hangs there).

June 20. 1952 Der Oldt Bauer


Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).


English and Pennsylvania German

Rights Statement

This item is available courtesy of the Ursinus College Library Special Collections Department. It is not to be copied or distributed for commercial use. For permissions which fall outside of educational use, please contact the Special Collections Department.

Dieffenbach: Butchering-Time on the Farm, June 20, 1952



Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.