What is hay?

October 13, 2020 – Whether you’re at a pumpkin patch or decorating your front porch, hay is the predominant ingredient in styling the fall season. But what is hay exactly? Sustainable, Secure Food Blog, produced by the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America, provides some insights:

  • The “hay” you’ve sat on during hayrides is actually straw! Straw refers to the plant material that is left over after grains like wheat and barley are harvested. The stems left behind become straw. There is little to no nutrition in straw, as the nutrition lies in the grain. Stalks of straw is usually considered a waste product but can be used in a variety of ways.
  • Straw can be used as bedding for animals, a material for making baskets or hats, and it can even be used a fuel source for bioenergy. Straw can also be used as a mulch, insulation in a house, and of course, fall decoration.
  • Actual hay is something an animal can eat. Hay usually comes from healthy and nutritious plants such as ryegrass or from legumes like clover or alfalfa. Hay will often be a mixture of plants and are produced on perennial crops, and lands that would not be productive for growing other things.
  • Hay is typically harvested before the plants make seed and are just growing leaves. These leaves are packed with nutrients and are easy for an animal to digest. To read more about hay and straw, read this blog: https://sustainable-secure-food-blog.com/2018/10/07/whats-the-difference-between-hay-and-straw/
  • Hay can become moldy or damaged if they’re not stored properly. Hay can be made into rectangular-shaped hay bales, weighing 50-60 pounds apiece. They were originally shaped this way in the 1950s so they could be stacked in a hayloft or barn until they were needed. Many farmers depend on hay to feed their cattle, sheep, or horses during long winters.
  • During the 1970s, new machinery caused a revolution in hay making as large, round balers were made. These round bales can weigh over 1,000 pounds and have the same amount of hay as about 20 rectangular bales. The main reason hay producers switched to these larger round bales is to save on labor costs. Rectangular bales have to be moved from the field, to the trailer, and stacked in the barn by hand. Round bales can be moved with a tractor. For a farmer who has a large amount of animals to feed, round bales are the norm. Rectangular bales are still used however, for the convenience of customers that buy hay for their hobby farm or horse. To read more about the difference between rectangular and round hay bales, read this blog: https://sustainable-secure-food-blog.com/2019/10/07/what-is-the-difference-between-square-and-round-hay-bales/