Hay Vs Straw

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Week 3 Lesson 3

Hay vs Straw



  • If you need to purchase hay or straw, have your child count the bales you get.
  • If you know a farm that has hay bales still in the field, have your child count those.
  • Make some haystacks out of construction paper and use them for counting or adding and subtracting.
  • You could also make them from different colors and sizes to have your child sort by color or size.

Middle School/High School

  • Figure out how much hay you need for your animals to get through winter.
  • Find out the price of hay in your area and figure the cost to feed the animals all winter.
  • Figure out the cost per animal. Figure the cost to buy straw for bedding.
  • Using this information, taking grazing into account, figure out your cost to feed your animals all year, also figuring the cost per animal.
  • Research homemade hand balers (see lesson). Make a scale drawing of one.
  • Write up a supply list and figure out how much it would cost to build one.
  • Make a chart outlining the hay each type of homestead animal would need.
  • Include the type of animal, type of hay, how much, and what nutritional need it fills.


Language Arts/Science


  • If possible, have your child look at both hay and straw.
  • Have them identify which is which and describe the differences they see.
  • Hay and straw are both nouns – remind your child that a noun is a person, place, or thing.
  • Have them trace or write the words HAY and STRAW. 

Middle School/High School

  • Research how to use a hand baler and give an oral report.
  • Write a one-three page report on the different types of hay and the nutritional values they contain.
  • Include which animals need which types of hay. 

Practical Homestead Skills


  • Watch hay being harvested.
  • Color the picture with the haystack (also counts as art).
  • Using real life examples, or pictures in books, help your child learn to identify different hay legumes and grasses. 

Printable>>>>Coloring Page Straw Stack

 Middle School/High School

  • Try harvesting hay by hand (or machine if that is how your homestead does it, with parental guidance).
  • If you can’t access the real thing, grab some pieces of long grass.
  • Cut it down and let it dry in the sun.
  • Once it is dry, try baling it with string or yarn.
  • Try building a hand baler if one would be useful to your family (links are in the lesson).

Hay vs. Straw

Have you ever helped with haying? It is hot, dusty work but GREAT exercise. 

Hay can be harvested at different times, but it needs to be ripe. The grass is ripe when it has three leaves and hasn’t started to go to seed.  If you harvest too early, you will not get as much, and if you harvest too late, the hay will not be as nutritious for the animals. Sometimes you can get two-three cuttings in a year. Harvesting should be done on a dry, hot day. Hay can be harvested by hand or by machine.

Pioneer’s Harvesting Hay

The pioneers would harvest hay with scythes. The most efficient pioneer could harvest two acres in a day. Because there were no weather reports back then, the pioneers had to trust their experience to predict enough days of dry weather for harvesting. Once the hay was cut, it was raked into long, nearly straight lines, called windrows, and then raked again. This eliminated most damp spots and allowed the hay to dry evenly. Once the hay was dry, it was put into haystacks. There was a special skill to making the proper haystack, a skill that has almost disappeared.


Hay Mower

Most hay is now harvested by machine. There are mowers, rakes, and balers. Mowers can be pulled by tractors, or they can be a machine you drive.

There are three kinds of mowers – the sickle bar, the disc, and the drum.

Sickle Bar Mower

The sickle bar was the first kind and used to be pulled by horses. It works similar to a hair trimmer with the blades moving back and forth on the cutter bar.

Disc Mower

The disc is similar to the sickle bar, but has discs with a couple blades on them mounted on the cutter bar.

Drum Mower

The drum is different from the previous two. There are two drums that are not run from the cutter bar, but from a gearbox above. There is a disc attached to the bottom of each drum with three to four cutting blades attached to the disc.  The rakes put the grass into the windrows.


There are four different kinds of rakes.

  • Wheel rakes are fast and productive, low cost and easy to maintain.
  • Parallel Bar rakes have a simple design that is over 100 years old. These are not the best choice for rakes and they are being replaced by other designs.
  • A rotary rake is a great choice. It can be used with wet or dry crops and creates a more even windrow.
  • Belt rakes can also handle wet or dry crops, but they are also more compact than a rotary rake, and easier to use. 


A tedder spreads and turns over the hay to help it dry more evenly.This is a valuable step to haying and the tedder makes it easier to do.  Once the hay is dry, it is ready for baling. If you don’t have a lot of hay, it can just be stored in stacks or a loft.

Baling Hay

Baling makes it easier to stack and transport. It’s usually done with a machine, and bales can be rectangular or rounds, compact or big and tied with twine. The round balers are made more simply than square balers so maintenance will be easier.

Round bales hold up better to rain than square bales. However, the square baler is faster and the bales are easier to handle. A hay baler can be built to bale by hand.

Here is a printable that gives general instructions on making your own!

Printable>>>Bailing hay instructions

Be sure the hay is stored properly so you won’t lose it to mold or moisture. Air needs to circulate around the bales, and they need to be protected from rain and snow. 

The Difference Between Hay vs Straw

Do you know the difference between hay and straw? Many people do not! And that is okay, because after this, you will know the difference. 


Straw is a by-product of a grain harvest – the stalk left after the harvest. The definition of the noun straw is ‘dried stalks of grain, used especially as fodder or as material for thatching, packing, or weaving.’ Straw is not usually used as feed, because it lacks nutrition. It works well as animal bedding because it doesn’t have much weight and it is soft. It is also great for mulching the garden because it helps hold in moisture. This is especially helpful when planting carrots because you do not want the top layer of soil to dry out. Straw has a golden color and typically comes from wheat, oats or barley. 


Hay is a noun defined as ‘grass that has been mown and dried for use as fodder.’ Hay can also be legumes. The type of hay you need is decided by the nutritional needs of the livestock you are feeding. The nutritional and protein value of hay depends on the plant it comes from and when it is harvested. Fiber increases as hay grows, and protein decreases. Most of the protein is in the leaves and the fiber is in the stalks. Some of the types of hay are alfalfa, clover, rye, timothy, and fescue. Alfalfa and clover are legumes, while the other three are grasses. When looking for bales of hay, look for a light green color. The hay needs to be dry and not moldy. You also want it to be free of weed seeds. 

Will you be helping with haying this season? Helping to purchase hay from a nearby farmer? Now you understand a little more about how haying works!


Verse of the Week

Jeremiah 5:24 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in His season: He reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. 

We must trust the Lord and know that He provides the sunshine and rain so that we may harvest at the end of the season. He wants us to follow Him and give Him praise. Pray over your gardens and crops – pray that the Lord will bless them and grant you a harvest for your family and others.


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