A century and a half ago, it was not uncommon for residents of America's Great Plains to use cow or buffalo dung as fuel in their cookstoves. Trees were limited on the prairie, and often wood would have to be hauled from quite a distance to the kitchen range. Thus, corncobs, "cats" of twisted grass, sunflower stalks, and animal dung became familiar fuels to our pioneer ancestors.
We don't have any shortage of wood on our farm, and we don't have a shortage of cow chips either. For the sake of this blog and for the learning experience, I collected some cow chips late in the summer and burned them in the Margin Gem. Below are several photographs of the cow chips during combustion along with some of my general observations about their performance.
|Looking through the front "eye" over the firebox at the flames|
from the cow chips.
|A closer view of the flames as the cow chips burn.|
The quality of cow chips is also seasonal. Pasture grass in the spring and early summer tends to be richer in moisture and other nutrients, causing cattle's bowels to be pretty loose. The nature of cattle's output during this time makes finding anything that resembles a "chip" pretty difficult. Later in the season, as the rains slack off and both the grass and the weather tend to be drier, what the bovine produces is more likely to be deposited in the "cow pie" form and is thus more easily collected.
|Yet another shot of the combustion of cow dung in the wood cookstove.|
|As the chips continue to burn, you can see that the edges are|
beginning to form coals, just like wood does.
Directions for Use
To use cow chips for fuel, one must first start the fire using kindling wood or corncobs in the normal fashion. Once the fire is burning well enough that it would be ready for split pieces of wood, one can add the dry cow chips. The drafts should be open so that plenty of oxygen is available to aid in the ignition of the fuel. Once the first chips are burning, add additional chips as frequently as you would if you were burning lightweight firewood such as poplar or cottonwood, leaving the drafts and stovepipe damper open enough to keep the flue gases exiting the house at a pretty good clip. Trust me when I say that no one wants this kind of smoke escaping into the house.
As the cow chips burn, they put out a good, hot heat. They also will form relatively short-lived coals that are similar to those of lightweight wood or corncobs, but they are coals nonetheless.