Hay vs Straw

buckyz4June 29, 2012

Lateley I have been seeing several posts comparing Hay to Straw and some confusion between the two.

There may be some regional differences in quality etc.

My responses are what I see in Wisconsin

Hay - Results from cutting green grass, clover etc. and the resulting bales are typically meant for feed.

Most hay is alfalfa which should be weed free. Typically the higher the quality the less weeds. "Dairy quality hay" would typically have the least amount of weeds if any. This is normally cut just prior to or the very beginning of blossom of the alfalfa. The fields are ripped up if too many weeds start growing since it will dramatically affect the feed value of the hay.

A lot of "horse hay" has a mixture of different types of grasses, clover, possibly alfalfa etc. Quite often this is cut when the plants have already headed out.

I have also seen people cut abandoned pastures, waterways, ditches etc, bale it up and call it hay. The feed value is marginal with a lot of chance for weeds.

Some farmers may use oats as a cover crop when seeding alfalfa. They have a choice to let the oats mature, combine, bale as straw or cut it when it is still green before it heads out and bale it as oat hay.

Straw is the hollow stalks of wheat, oats, barley, rye etc. from after they are combined.There is relatively no feed value in this. Again, this should also be relatively weed free. Along with the stalks, you will see the seed heads of the plants but the seeds should have been removed. The combines never get all of the seeds so you will quite often see volunteer wheat etc growing from these. This all depends on the fields. I have seen some grain fields that had quite a few weeds and needless to say, the straw that comes from those fields will have weed seeds. Straw is typically cheaper than the high quality dairy hay, but similar to some of the lesser quality hays.

Never dealt with pine straw, or salt marsh hay.

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Totally agree with you bucky... nice explanation. I find that people very often use the term hay for everything. At the feed store here they would differentiate between straw, hay (mixture of green cut grasses and legumes), and alfalfa (pure alfalfa cut green), going from low to high in price.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 12:51PM
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luke_oh(zone 5 NE Ohio)

Bucky, Thanks for clearing this up. I've read some posts that clearly questions the distinction between hay and straw. Simply, straw is the stems from grains left after combining of the grain. It's then bailed and usually ends up as livestock bedding. Wheat straw is more absorbant than oat straw and is most desireable for bedding. Also, some livestock will eat oat straw bedding. Hay is simply grasses or legumes or combinations of the two that is cut, thetherd into rows and bailed after drying. This is animal feed. Usually horse owners prefer timothy or grasses like orchard grass or a mix of grasses. Legumes are prefered by dairy farmers for milk production. In either hay or the straw the weeds come from weeds that grew with the crop in the field. I use clean straw for mulch in the garden, but not in the orchard.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 1:57PM
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Also remember to ask (regardless of what you're getting) about any potential herbicides the hay/straw has been exposed to.

There are fields that are sprayed with weed killer that doesn't affect the stalks cut for straw that can stick to the processed straw and then wash off into your garden soil and kill whatever you're growing.

So make sure and ask about that ahead of time.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 1:57PM
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alan haigh

Yes, thanks. I've been using hay mulch for years and had no idea of these distinctions. I have to say that a lot of hay used for dairy in NY seems to have plenty of weed seeds though.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

>>Most hay is alfalfa which should be weed free.But if you're using it as a mulch I consider alfalfa one of the worst weed. These HUGE plants grow in drought conditions and have about the longest roots of all grasses. I've bee killing them with roundup near my fruit trees and shrubs, they can grow 8 feet tall and suck allot of nutrient and moisture away from what you grow.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 7:59PM
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Konrad, alfalfa is not a grass, but a legume that enriches the soil by fixing nitrogen and mining useful minerals and nutrients from deeper soil levels. I'm sure it's very tough to get rid of, but can also be managed as a resource by composting and/or mulching the cuttings. It's also a great nectar source for bees.

Probably does not mitigate your frustration, but just saying...

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 11:13AM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I knew that it's not a grass but most people don't know it as legume. I bought ones a pound or so alfalfa grass seed, [not know as legume] and sprinkled a bit here and there for my Honeybees, over the years I got them sprouting in places not intentioned.
Just saying,.. be aware!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 11:37AM
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