Hay vs. Straw

I love western romances.

Many of you probably figured that out from the types of books I write.

I also enjoy reading them.

But nothing spoils a book for me faster than the writer including details and getting them confused or wrong.

I’ve read two western romances in the past week that had great storylines with good character development. The problem  was in the details they threw into the story that were just wrong.

The first one kept using hay and straw interchangeably. Growing up on a farm, I’m here to tell you they are not the same thing. Not even close. It’s a little detail that screams to readers you’ve never set foot on a farm and have no idea what you’re talking about.

haybale This is a bale of hay. As a teenager, bales of hay were one of the banes of my existence. My dad went with small bales all the years I was growing up, which meant they were small enough I could lift them (they were usually between 90 and 100 pounds.) You might also see hay in big round or square bales.

Hay is grass, clover, alfalfa, etc., cut and dried for feed.  Although the outside of a bale can turn brown from the weather and age, when you cut it open, you’ll see all that nutrient-rich green feed inside.

When a farmer cuts (swaths or mows) hay, it is green.

straw baleStraw is golden yellow from the inside out. The small bales are light and easy to carry. You might also see these in large round or square bales.

A single stalk or stem is a straw while a mass of them compressed together is a straw bale. Straw is what’s left in a field after the crop of wheat, rye, oats or barley is harvested.

When a farmer harvests wheat (or one of the other grains) it is already dry. That’s why the dry, hollow straw stems are left behind. The nutritional value is in the heads of wheat, not in the stems.
Hay is what you feed cattle. Straw is what you spread out for them to bed down.
Think of straw like pork rinds, dry and crunchy without much nutritional value – while hay is like a fresh garden salad, filled with nutrients and good-for-you greens.
Just remember, if you’re writing a western or rural based story… please, please do not feed the animals straw or have the kids spreading hay in the stalls for bedding.

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