Q. What is the difference between Hay and Straw?
A. Simply put, hay is typically dried grass (or grass mixes) and has nutritional value for livestock to eat. In New England, it is usually harvested from perennial fields of grass that are well-established. Straw, on the other hand, is comprised of the stalks left over from harvested annually-planted grain crops, from which the heads have been removed, and has no real nutritional value – usually used for garden mulching, animal bedding, or decoration. Good hay, once dry, still retains a bit of green color, whereas straw is often a golden yellow/brown. Chances are, any “hay” rides you have been on, or any “hay bales” you see for decoration or in TV/Movies, was really straw!
(Fun fact: In New England, where grain crops are not very common, many farmers grow annually planted Rye to harvest as straw. While this isn’t “true” straw, i.e. it’s not the remaining stalks from a grain harvest, it is typically cut before the seed heads are mature, and can be used as a “weed free” mulch or decoration. Farmers still need to plant it annually, requiring some level of tillage, so it is less common up in the hills, such as our wonderful hometown of Conway. As such, we do not produce straw at Windrow Farm.)
Q. What is First Cut Hay?
A. “First cut” hay is from the first time a field is mowed each season. Its defining characteristic is that it contains seed heads and greater overall volume, with more fiber but less sugar, protein, and nutrients than second cut (think lettuce compared to spinach!) It is generally described as “coarser” than second cut, with far more stems (as well as their attached seed heads) and a lesser percentage of leaves. It is well suited for Horses (who need fiber and roughage, so long as they do not have dentition or dietary problems) as well as non-lactating animals (who are looking for full bellies rather than maximum energy).
Q. What is Second Cut Hay?
A. “Second cut” (also known by some as “Rowen”) refers to any subsequent cuttings of a hay field after first cut. After first cutting, grass typically stops its reproductive stage for the year, and instead only produces leaves to maximize photosynthesis and build up root-stock. For this reason, the yield of second cut is less than first cut (typically around 50-60%), but is much higher in sugar, protein, and overall nutrients than first cut (think spinach compared to lettuce!). Second Cut is well suited for lactating animals as well as older horses with dentition or dietary needs, or as part of a mixed feeding regimen along with first cut. (Some folks will also use second cut to transition from winter feed onto green pasture, or vice versa, as it more closely resembles fresh grass.)