Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.
2000 Urban Legends

The following stories are apocryphal. They are included on the Darwin Awards website because they are inspirational narratives of the astounding efforts of legendary Darwin Awards contenders.


Cow Bomb 
2000 Urban Legend

"Several years ago Newsweek or Time Magazine had a short peice, including photo, about a college professor who conducted live demonstrations of the flamability of bovine discharges. Methane needs to be mixed with oxygen to burn, and the combustion needs to proceed under pressure to explode. The experiment showed a dramatic but harmless torch effect.The picture was comical." Bob McLaughlin<

(California) A dairy worker who heard that bovine flatulence was largely composed of methane, and potentially explosive, decided to apply the scientific method to the theory. While one of his contented cow charges was hooked up to the milking machine, he waited for the slight tail lift which dairy workers know signals an impending expulsion, generally something to avoid. Our hero struck a match. His satisfaction at seeing the resulting foot-long blue flame lasted mere seconds, before the flame was subsumed by a rectal contraction. The poor Holstein exploded, killing the worker who was struck by a flying femur bone.

Ron Singh comments, "Abominable... truly 'a bomb in a bull.' " © 1994 - 2020

Submitted by: Vern Kerr

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Hate it! Love it!

What Readers Think.

John Kwon knows the origins of the Cow Bomb legend. "In 1979 my job was to read the Times of London and Manchester Guardian,and code the international stories into a computer. One of the stories was about a veterinarian in Holland who had been called to treat a cow with an impacted bowel. He inserted a lubricated hose into the rectum to push through the blockage, and was rewarded with a satisfying rush of gas. Finding it amusing, he raised his cigarette lighter and sparked the flint. The hose lit with a blue flame, and then there was a detonation not of the cow, but of the air/gas mixture around the cow. It set fire to the barn and burned down and the milking areas. The veterinarian, who survived, was sued for the equivalent of 21 million dollars. Not a Darwin award, but certainly the source of the urban legend."
I can think of no better comment than this: Bull----.
Scott - Tuesday, April 04 at 19:03:15 PDT
Meatloaf, anyone?
sorcen - Tuesday, April 04 at 19:44:44 PDT
Methane burns according to the equation CH4 + 2(O2) --> 2(H20) + CO2. This means there would have to be twice as much oxygen inside the cow as methane in order for it to combust. I find it hard to believe that this is the case, since no digestive process creates oxygen.
Chemistry Police - Tuesday, April 18 at 00:10:40 PDT
Chemistry Police thank goodness you've come to our rescue!
no_dummy - Wednesday, April 19 at 12:06:00 PDT
A similar incedent is described in James Elliot's book "All Creatures Great and Small." The outcome, however, was not as dramatic. The farmer's barn burns down, killing the cow.
Claude Balls - Wednesday, April 05 at 01:03:07 PDT
Jasper Carrot wrote about a man who lit his own farts, and he says that hospitals do occasionally get people who are burnt from this kind of shenanigan.
Rit - Wednesday, April 05 at 08:12:04 PDT
If this was true, imagine what would happen if the dairy farmers ever got pissed off at the government? News headlines would read: 'Internal Revenue Service blown up by Cow Bomb. Government bans Cows from Federal Building Parking Lots." We would also need 'hazardous cargo' stickers for cows too!
Tejan Ausland - Friday, April 21 at 03:02:23 PDT
It would take a lot of force to blow up a cow. Even if there was enough oxgen available to burn the methane in the cow, that would not be enough to produce an explosion of this force. It would take the power of a stick of dynamite.
ray - Wednesday, April 05 at 08:24:13 PDT
Forget about cow tipping and cattle mutilations. If this were possible, people all over the world would be participating in this new sport and no cow would be safe.
Swampthing - Wednesday, April 05 at 18:40:31 PDT
Any fart is flammable. But farmers want their cows to be comfortable, as they produce more milk when they are happy. So any dairy farmer worth his weight in bullshit wouldn't hold a lighter up to his cow's ass.
gimp - Monday, April 10 at 06:10:37 PDT
Ah yes, the good old exploding cow story. All of the arguments are valid -- not enough oxygen, no witnesses to details, organic bodies not rigid enough to explode, etc. -- so I won't rehash them. I'll just mention that I first heard this story when I spent a summer at my uncle's farm in North Carolina. I was ten years old then, and now I am 63. Legend, yes, but Urban Legend? More like Rural Legend.
King Harry - Tuesday, April 11 at 14:52:29 PDT
Of course this isn't true, but reading it and the diatribes that followed was great for a few laughs. Of note: methane has no odor. The reason "natural gas" lines smell is because extra sulfur-containing gas is added before it gets to your house, so that you'll notice if there's a leak. Similarly, farts smell thanks to other gaseous organic compounds mixed with the methane, not because of the methane itself.
MisterWong - Monday, April 17 at 19:38:24 PDT

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