Hay and Straw

Posted by in farm

Yesterday, Kenny and I worked together to stash away our second delivery of hay in the barn (okay, he did all the work, I was merely the hay loft organizer). Hopefully these bales will last us well into spring, so the pasture has time to get thick and juicy for the summer months of grazing.

The barn smelled of autumn again, with the addition of these meaty bales of nourishment. With the ice and snow to come today, it was a bit of a tease as it smelled of 60-degree weather (but certainly didn’t feel it!). The animals were locked in their pens munching on grain and a few flakes of hay while we worked to store their food. I noted at how peaceful and quiet it was in the barn as they munched away, making no other sound. Humans have a tendency to make such noise when they add their voices to a peaceful barn.

I was born and raised within city limits. “Country” was at least an hour drive and seldom visited. I preface this post with that information because I’m embarrassed about some of the lessons I learned just recently about hay and straw, namely that they AREN’T the same!

Hay and straw are COMPLETELY different, even though they (only slightly) look the same when cut (in bales). At the end of this post, you will know which is which in the below picture:

Hay is full of green grasses (like alfalfa or timothy) and it give animals all the nutrients and food they need in winter months.
Straw is merely empty stalks of grasses (such as wheat or barley), and animals don’t eat it, they sleep on it.

Hay is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. You give animals a few flakes at feeding time – not the whole bale (or you’ll have run out by January).
Straw is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. Obviously farmers use the same machine to cut and bale straw as they do hay.

Hay bales are roughly 40 lbs each and very hard to get up into the hay loft if you are weak, like me. Unless you have a brilliant husband who invents a pully system.
Straw bales are roughly 20 lbs each, and make you feel really strong if you think you are carrying hay.

Hay is cut three times in a growing season, and “second cuts” is the most nutritious.
Straw is only cut when the wheat or barely or corn is dried out (usually once a season).

Hay bales are greenish brown.
Straw bales are a bright yellow.

So now you are well-versed in a few of the differences between hay and straw. I hope this information is helpful to some of you. I wish I had read it five years ago. I would have impressed the neighbor farmers more with this knowledge, although they’re good people around here, and don’t generally laugh at you when you ask for some straw to feed your animals.