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City Slickers Want to Know: What’s the Difference Between Hay and Straw?

July 11, 2012

I want to tell you that the farmers in this area are a very polite group. I have no idea if they fall on the ground laughing once I leave from my visit with them, but they are extremely courteous to me and answer all my questions. I really believe that they enjoy the fact that someone who has such limited experience with food production is interested enough to be asking these silly questions.

So when I heard one guy laugh how one woman visiting his farm asked about feeding his cows straw, I knew I had a new series I could write…..what we city slickers just don’t know…yet. Time to head back to school so to speak.


So what IS the difference between hay and straw? It all looks like golden rolls or blocks of the same thing to me as I drive by the fields!

Hay (noun) 1. grass, alfalfa, clover, etc. cut and dried for use as fodder
Straw (noun) 1. hollow stalks of grain after threshing, used for bedding, for weaving hats, baskets, etc.

Hay bales are a food source. That is the first and perhaps most important difference. Hay is actually a plant that is cut when it is alive and full of grain. The purpose of the hay is to feed animals.

Straw, on the other hand, is simply the stalks of standing plants that contain no grain. The grain is harvested from the plants by a machine that cuts it off of the stalk. The grain is then removed from the field and the stalks are left to die, standing. Once they are totally dead and mostly devoid of moisture, they are cut, raked, and baled. The baled straw has multiple uses. It can be used as animal bedding, erosion control, home building, and more. One thing it is not used for is food.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2012 12:53 am

    I’m sure some folks were in need of this post.

    • July 12, 2012 9:46 am

      When the farmer told me about the woman that made the comment, I told him it easily could have been me. Why would someone who never spent time on a farm know the difference between straw and hay if they never saw it up close. If the only exposure to them is from a road and the way to harvest them is similar, then a bale of hay and a bale of straw can be mistaken from a distance. This situation also made me that much more aware of how little many people understand about their food and gives me much more to write. *S*

      • July 12, 2012 12:39 pm

        Keep writing. No one knows it all. I just wrote a post on how to make a fire. I wrote it because I had an experience recently where someone who I figured could build a cook fire blindfolded, declined to do so when I asked them to set up a fire for a Dutch oven. In humility he told me he had never in his life made a fire! Camp cooks always had one going when he arrived to eat. Instead of acting surprised, I just guided him through it. He was happy as a clam after watching his fire turn into a decent pile of hot coals.

      • July 12, 2012 7:41 pm

        I will continue writing, if not in both blogs in at least one.

      • July 12, 2012 10:36 pm


  2. July 12, 2012 10:40 am

    Thanks for the clarification. I kind of knew the answer, but I couldn’t have put it into words. Now I can tell my husband. He’s a great gardener, but not a farmer. Wwhen I told him I was getting straw for mulch, he kept calling it “hay” and said there was no difference. Can’t wait to show him this blog!

    • July 12, 2012 7:42 pm

      PC, don’t feel bad…how would we know if we don’t use it.

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