This column ran in the March 30, 2010 Prairie Post
A couple weeks back I wrote an article for the Jamestown Sun about a large scale dairy operation planned for the Edgeley area.
I won’t comment on the pros and cons of such an operation, I leave that for each person to decide for themselves, I will comment on the operation’s use of manure as an energy source.
There is a long tradition of using poop as fuel on the prairies.
The wagon trains that crossed the Dakota plains, some right through the Jamestown area, cooked most of their meals over a fire of dried buffalo chips.
This was the most readily available fuel of the time. Few trees grew on the open prairie so firewood would have been scarce to non-existent.
But the 1860s were still before the age of market hunting for buffalo hides on the northern plains and the herds would have been large. And they had a tendency to let the chips fall where they may.
By the 1880s the buffalo had been all but exterminated so buffalo chips were no longer a source of fuel for the early homesteader.
If you had money, or credit at the general store, you bought lignite coal to heat your claim shanty. If that wasn’t an option many tied hay into knots, which slowed the rate it burned, and fed that into the stove.
This was a little labor intensive. It was said to take two men and a boy tying knots in hay all day to keep a shanty warm for 24 hours.
But the Germans from Russia settlers in what is now south central North Dakota and northern South Dakota had another way to heat their claim shanty.
It was called “mist” and made from cow manure and hay or straw. The poop was mixed with water in a low spot in the homestead yard. The straw or hay was thrown on top of the manure and mixed by walking horses or ox through the muck although a wife or child could probably be substituted in a pinch.
After it was thoroughly mixed it was packed into wooden forms. The mix was then ejected from the forms and allowed to dry in the sun.
Mist was economical to produce, totally home grown and a good supply of energy to keep the shanty warm.
Making it was still a crappy job, but someone had to do it.