Gelders and expert marshals: the history of little-known professions

by Arnaud Gaschet, Docteur vétérinaire, Adel.

The advent of veterinarians in 1761 created a new social and occupational group involved in animal medicine. Thus veterinarians started competing with gelders and expert marshals who had practiced their art for ages. The conflict kept growing as the number of veterinarians increased. Finally it led to a violent clash in the middle of the nineteenth century. Gelders and expert marshals had claimed their right to practice for176 years but their number gradually decreased after the passing of the law of 18th June 1938 stating the rules and regulations of veterinary medicine. Whereas they were nearly 8,000 in 1938, the last one retired in 1988. The history of this competition highlights the mutations  undergone in the agricultural world, the social and economic evolution of the countryside since the end of the nineteenth century, and the progress of veterinary legislation since 1761. Nevertheless, veterinarians had to coexist with gelders and expert marshals in the rural areas of western France for fifty years after the passing of the law of 18th June 1938.

This article aims at presenting the relationships between veterinarians, expert marshals/gelders and breeders for a better understanding of this transition period. It is based on the analysis of forty years of the veterinary professional press and on twenty-eight testimonies of external witnesses. These relationships were no different from those we have with our veterinarian colleagues now. Yet they are part of our history at a time when new agricultural related professions appear, leading to an evolution of legislation.éd.sci.vét., 2011, 11 : 23-41