Hay vs. Straw – What’s The Difference?

September 21st, 2011 by Craig Mullins

Hay and straw seem very similar on the surface, but they are actually quite different; each one ideal for its own thing. For example, hay is a feed, while straw is a byproduct, and although both can be used for bedding, straw is the better choice.

It’s important to know these differences before working with straw and hay, so here’s a little help.

Origin:
– Straw is made from the leftover shafts of grains like rye, oats, and wheat, after the seed heads have been cut off.
– Hay is often the combination of several grasses and grains like alfalfa, brome, and timothy; clover and rye are often components. Hay is cut when it’s source is still green, capturing nutrients in the cut-off plants.

Harvesting:
– With straw, the grain is harvested first, with the straw stalk baled later. Straw is considered a secondary crop since they are comprised of the remnants of a crop and are not intended to serve as food.
– Hay is cut when it reaches the desired height, is allowed to dry slightly, then is baled. Because hay is used has a food source for animals, it is considered a primary crop.

Size and Weight:
– Straw and hay bales come in a variety of sizes and weights. When baled, straw is generally lighter than hay due to the lower moisture content. Keep in mind, however, that some bailing machines pack more tightly than others do, thus altering the overall weight.

Color:
– Straw should be yellow or golden grain shafts.
– Hay will be green to brown with a ton of seeds.

Nutrition:
– Straw has little nutritional value and most animals don’t care to eat it.
– Hay, on the other hand, is high in vitamin and mineral content and is a choice food item for animals.

Comfort:
– Straw is lighter and less dense then hay, providing better shock absorption for the hooves and joints of animals.

eHow has information on the Difference Between Hay and Straw and Which Is Best for Bedding, so be sure to check that out.

Keep in mind that if you decide to use hay for bedding, animals like to eat it so it will need to be replenished frequently.

Mulch and Composting:
– Because of the low-moisture content, straw makes an excellent mulch and perfect addition to a compost pile.
– The moisture of hay makes it an unsuitable choice for mulch and composting.

Insulation:
– Straw retains heat and naturally has a low-moisture content, therefore making it less likely to develop mold. Because the shaft is hollow, straw is lightweight and a good insulator. Straw can be easily used for bedding, erosion prevention, and even in the making of walls!
– Hay is cut while living, so it retains a higher moisture level.

With that in mind, both straw and hay will keep a long time if kept dry.

Some FAQs about building a home with straw bales HERE, along with their answers (with videos) courtesy of Andrew Morrison, a specialist in straw bale and green construction. Here’s a taste:

Is a straw bale house more energy efficient?
Yes. A typical straw bale wall is roughly three times as efficient as conventional framing. Over the life of a typical thirty year mortgage, this superior insulation can reduce energy costs by up to 75%, saving money and vital natural resources.

Do the thick walls provide good sound insulation?
Straw bale homes provide superior sound absorption compared with conventional houses.

How durable is a home made out of straw?
Bale homes built in the 1800’s till exist in Nebraska and Europe. Straw bale homes have consistently withstood severe weather and wind in Wyoming as well as major earthquakes in California…Many architects and engineers consider straw bales to be the ideal “seismic-resistant” building material. In wind tests, bale structures see no movement in a sustained 75 mph gale and only 1/16 inch movement with 100 mph gusts.

How does building with straw bales help our environment?
The use of straw bales can have a huge impact on our natural resources and air pollution. Each year, the U.S. alone burns or disposes of 200 million tons of ‘waste straw,’ producing massive amounts of carbon dioxide. The use of straw as insulation reduces the need for initial energy outputs in regards to manufacturing. There is less embodied energy in straw as it is available in almost every local market, thereby reducing transportation costs and efforts…using this local, agricultural by-product as a building material, we reduce energy expenditures, the amount of straw burned, and the use of fossil fuels needed for material transportation.

Click HERE for The Difference Between Hay Bales and Straw Bales, from Andrew Morison

Visit Wikipedia for more on Straw and Hay, as well as their many uses.

difference between hay and straw

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