I was in the car recently with my mum and she looked out of the window and remarked that another farmer had made those “big boulder things of grass.” I said: “Do you mean bales, mum?” She did.
This made me laugh. There is always some kind of meme going round social media about people getting hay and straw mixed up so I thought I’d give you a whistle stop lesson in hay vs straw.
Silage is grass that has been cut and baled relatively quickly after being cut. Usually a day. It is green in colour and is wrapped in bale wrap where it ferments. It is used mainly for cattle to eat during the winter months. When it has been stored for a while, it smells very strong and quite rank really. Cows love it though. It is very rich in sugars which is great for cattle.
Haylage is grass that is half way between silage and hay. It is greener than hay but drier and more yellow in colour than silage. It is much sweeter and wetter than hay and, like silage, is wrapped.
Hay is grass that has been allowed to totally dry.
It is the most lab intensive to make as the grass is mowed, then the grass is turned frequently (tedding) to spread out the blades and allow them to dry in the sun.
This is where make hay while the sun shines comes from because it needs to be sunny and, if possible, hot to dry out the grass.
After ideally five days, the hay is rowed up and then baled. Hay does not need wrapping as it is so dry but it needs to be kept in a barn to stop it getting rained on and the farmer checks the temperature of the hay a lot at first to check that it isn’t getting too hot.
Straw is technically a bi-product of something else. You can make straw from wheat, barley or oats and it is the stalk that is left in the ground when the combine has removed the grain.
The straw will be rowed up similar to the hay and then the tractor and baler will go along and bale it.
We use a round baler for hay and haylage and a large square baler for straw. There are different sixes of bale. For small animals like rabbits and some horses, people prefer small bales so they can transport them easier in their cars.
On the farm we have machinery to move the bales so the large ones are more economical for us.
I do discourage the children from playing in the hay sheds though as the bales weigh such a lot that if one fell on them, they would be killed.
This is a special time of year when the smell is just beautiful and, the long dry spell may have not done much for the crops and grass themselves but it has made the straw the perfect shade of yellow.
You now have no excuse for getting it wrong.