We do not wish to create a panic, but we are advising those of you who live in the Midwest to evacuate the area immediately and stay out until we can get to the bottom of this matter concerning the exploding cow.
We found out about this thanks to alert reader Dale Clemons, M.D., who sent us a very toubling Baltimore Sun headlined: "Cow Explodes, Horrified Farmer Sues." The story concerns a New Zealand farmer who purchased a cow, which he and his family were admiring, when suddenly without warning, we bet the cow "exploded before their eyes, spattering into a million bits of flesh and bone and drenching them all in blood."
Now for most of us, when we hear of a shocking tragedy of this nature, our natural reaction is extreme sorrow that we were not able to observe it firsthand while wearing goggles. We estimate that, just from our immediate circle of friends, we could fill a municipal stadium with people willing to pay $50 apiece to see a cow spontaneously explode.
But apparently this family prefers a cow that engages in more traditional cow behavior such as standing around exhibiting the intelligence of coleslaw, because the farmer is suing the breeder for selling him a "defective" cow.
The article quotes a veterinarian as saying that cows produce up to three quarts of gas per minute. "If it can't burp," the veterinarian says, "its stomach can explode within the hour."
This is exactly the kind of story the Founding Fathers had in mind when they put the clause in the Constitution stating that the press has the right to run up enormous long-distance telephone charges. So we called up New Zealand, which is in the Mars Time Zone, but we were unable to locate any of the people named in the exploding cow story.
We were actually starting to wonder if The Sun story was untrue, when suddenly, without warning, an alert reader named Donald McEwan sent us another frightening cow-related news item. This one came from The Washington Post, and it stated we are not making any of this up that a Colorado State University animal-nutrition professor named Donald Johnson has been studying cow flatulence for 20 years, and has determined that the average cow emits 200 to 400 quarts of methane per day, resulting in a total annual world cow methane output of 50 million metric tons.
So, of course, we called Professor Johnson, who seemed remarkably normal considering his chosen field, and we asked him whether cows can explode.
"I've never heard of it," he said. "It's rather unlikely that a cow would actually explode, although there is considerable methane gas and in some cases it could be present in concentrations that could ignite."
In fact, Professor Johnson revealed that on more than one occasion, in college classrooms, he has used a candle to set fire to emissions being emitted by live cows, one of whom was able to sustain the flame without the candle.
Ask yourself this question: What if such a cow were to fall into the wrong hands? Picture this: You're on a seemingly routine commercial airline flight, rummaging around your breakfast tray in search of an implement sharp enough to penetrate your "omelet," when suddenly, without warning, from back in the smoking section, you hear sharp cries of:
"He's got a cow!"
You whirl around, and there, in the aisle, stands: a terrorist. In one hand he holds a Bic lighter; in the other he holds a fuse, which is attached to Professor Johnson's high-output cow which by the way would not be detected by ANY airport metal detector currently in use and in the next instant the entire cabin is filled with the chilling, unmistakable sound of: The Death Moo.
What can we do to prevent this chilling scenario from becoming a reality or even worse a made-for-television "docu-drama"? Clearly what is called for is a federal task force, ideally headed by Dan Quayle, who seems to have a lot of spare time, assuming that he is not called upon to suddenly, without warning, become president of the United States. We urge you to write a letter about this to your congressperson, bearing in mind that if he is an average adult, he produces, according to The Washington Post, about one liter of methane per day.
This Dave Barry column, perhaps the first in the exploding-cow series, originally ran in 1990. Next week Sun Magazine will publish Dave Barry's annual Year-end column.