Hay vs Straw: Find Out the Difference!

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hay vs straw

They might look similar, but did you know that hay is different from straw?

Don’t feel bad if you think they’re one and the same. We did, too.

In fact, even those from the rural areas didn’t always know the difference between hay vs straw.

Hay vs Straw: Both hay and straw have special uses in homesteading. If you have plans to own a horse or take care of livestock and poultry, knowing the difference between hay and straw is very important. Hay is basically a plant-product preserved to become animal feed. Straw, on the other hand, is a waste product of agriculture with a lot of uses.

Still confused? Let’s take a closer look at the two.

What Is Hay?

what is hay

Hay is an agricultural product comprised of cut grass, legumes, and other herbaceous plants, dried and stored as animal fodder.

There are four types of hay: grass, legume, mixed (grass and legume), and cereal grain straw.

Different types of grass used for hay include ryegrass, timothy, brome, fescue, Bermuda, and orchard grass.

Apart from these, good-quality hay also has legumes, sometimes alfalfa or clover, which are usually cut before blooming.

What Is Hay used for?

Hay is a good quality animal feed for horses, donkeys, mules, and livestock, especially during the winter months when they cannot graze for pastures.

Hay producers include leaves and seed heads with the plant stems to complete the nutritional requirements to feed livestock.

Sometimes, farmers also add green cereal stems to the hay mixture, but these become straw because farmers cannot harvest the stems without wasting the grains.

What is Straw?

what is straw

Straw is a byproduct of cereal crops, mostly rice, wheat, rye, oats, and barley.

Farmers separate the cereal grains from these crops for human consumption, and they dry the stems to produce straw.

What is Straw used for?

Straw is also animal fodder in conditions where hay is not available and where animals need more fiber in their diet.

Aside from being introduced into livestock diet, straw has a lot of other uses.

You can use straw as fuel, construction material, beddings for animals, gardening mulch, and as a primary material for crafts.

Difference between Hay vs Straw

difference between hay vs straw

People usually mistake straw bales for hay bales and vice versa.

The simplest way to differentiate the two is by saying that hay is a product, whereas straw is a byproduct.


Producing hay is as tedious as producing grain cereals. The only takeaway is farmers do not remove the leaves and seeds from the stems.

Farmers harvest hay when the seed heads are about to get ripe and the leaf is at its maximum.

After cutting, hay material is allowed to dry to reduce the bulk of its moisture content down to 20 percent.

Hay material with the perfect moisture content is then assembled into hay bales, which are then wrapped into silage or gathered into haystacks.

Highly nutritious hay is green and has some moisture, while straw is golden and dry.

Straw is just the dried stalks and stems of cereal plants after the farmers harvest the grains.


Straw and hay share some uses; you can use both for garden mulching and feeding animals.


Both straw and hay are suitable mulching materials for your garden.

An organic mulch is a layer of biodegradable material applied to the soil surface.

Mulching conserves soil moisture, improves soil fertility and health, reduces weed growth, and increases the aesthetic appeal of your garden.

Proper application of a mulching layer using straw or hay can significantly increase soil productivity.

The difference between a hay mulch and a straw mulch is that hay can decompose faster than straw because it has more moisture content.

Straw, on the other hand, will take more moisture out of the soil before it decomposes.

Animal Feeds

Straw does not constitute a balanced diet for livestock, which is why hay is the better option.

Feed your livestock straw as part of their diet during winter to help them survive the cold.

The energy their body uses to digest this roughage can help maintain body heat.

Hay has the leaf and seed material that contains all the nutrients that animals need in their diet.

Other Uses

Straw has many more uses than those it shares with hay.

As a substitute for coal and carbon-neutral energy sources, you can use bales of straw as a biofuel.

In construction, you can use straw to bind clay and concrete, bale it and stack it as wall insulation, and thatch it to form a roof.

Straw can provide good insulation in the barn as bedding for animals.

Mattress manufacturers still use straw as filling materials for mattresses.

Many crafting practices extensively use straw. With it, you can craft toy dolls, scarecrows, hats, shoes, bags, and baskets.

Other industrial uses of straw include conversion to rope, paper, packaging materials, and archery targets.


Straw is a lot cheaper than hay.

When you go to the feed store to buy hay, notice how greener it is than straw and how the hay bale has seed heads and leaves included.

The time it took to plant, harvest, and prepare hay bales dictates how and why its prices are higher than straw.

Straw is just recycled material from harvested grains that have a whole other value.

Pros and Cons of Hay vs Straw

To summarize the differences between hay and straw, we have compiled a list of pros and cons of using each.


Here are the pros and cons of using hay:


  • Provides a complete diet for horses and livestock
  • Can provide forage for non-grazing animals
  • Can be used for mulching


  • More expensive than straw
  • Can accumulate rot and fungus if not adequately dried


Here are the pros and cons of using straw:


  • Cheaper than hay
  • Recycled byproduct
  • Can substitute for hay as fodder
  • Can be used for mulching
  • Good insulation material
  • Can be used as fuel
  • Good bedding material
  • Multiple uses in construction and crafting


  • Lacks dietary nutrients required by horses and livestock
  • Can accumulate rot and fungus if not adequately dried
  • Has to be replaced often if used as animal bedding
  • Loose straw becomes a hiding place for rodents

Which is better hay or straw?

When it comes to diversifying to several uses, buy straw.

On the other hand, if you are looking to have better returns on your livestock investment, feeding them with hay is always better.


If you are homesteading and want to own some farm animals, keep in mind that you should feed them with good-quality hay.

They also deserve to have their straw beddings often replaced to keep them warm, clean, and away from diseases.

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