Introduction: Straw and hay are two very different agricultural products. However as both are packed in bales, non-agriculturists often treat them as the same produce. There is a fairy tale called ‘The Three Little Pigs’. In this story, the first pig builds his house with straw, but the song has the pig say “I will build my house with hay.” Possibly the lyricist did not know the difference between straw and hay. Bales of straw can support a house. Making use of modern technology, a house of straw will withstand strong winds and minor gales; a huffing and puffing wolf will make no impact at all. The pig could never have built a house of hay as hay bales cannot support a house.
Hay and straw evidently are two very different agricultural products. They are made from different materials, processed differently and have different uses.
Hay: In many parts of the world, domestic animals like the cow, buffalo, horse and bull are not able to graze all the year round. This is either because the extreme cold in winter or extreme heat in summer does not permit the natural growth of grass. Farmers therefore grow animal feed at the times of the year when the climate boosts abundant growth. The cultivated feed for the most part consists of different types of grasses, legumes and other herbaceous plants. The plants are cut when still in their prime. They are then dried and packed into bales to be stored for animal feed.
As live plants are cut, hay is greenish in colour. It also contains a lot of moisture, and the process of decomposition that takes place within the bale creates intense heat. This can even cause a bale of hay to go up in flames. A high level of moisture can cause the hayto mold. This makes it unsafe for animals to eat. A variety of hay is fed to animals everyday as it contains protein and carbohydrates. Different varieties of hay taken from different plants are specialized to meet the different nutritional needs of the animals. For the farmer decomposed hay adds nutrition to the soil.
Straw: Unlike hay, straw is not the whole plant that cut before attaining maturity. It is the stalk of a plant that has matured to seed. Crops like wheat, barley and oats have hollow stalks. Once the crop has matured, it is harvested. This means the plants are cut and left to dry. When sufficiently dried, the grain (seed) is separated from the stalk by the process of threshing. The stalk is the waste product of the process. It is dried out completely in the sun and then packed into bales for storage. This is straw.
Straw is yellow or golden in colour. Straw hats and baskets are sold everywhere is tropical climates.
A bale of straw contains very little moisture. There is very little nutritional value and straw is not used as animal feed. It is used as bedding for the animals as it is light and fluffy.
Straw is also good mulch for plants. It keeps the soil moist by preventing the top soil from drying out.A layer of straw spread around a plant’s base also suppresses weeds. Additionally, it turns into soil-enriching compost. Farmers even make scarecrows with straw to frighten birds from ruining their crops. Birds use straw for making their nests.
Straw is used as an ingredient in bio-fuels, packaging materials and paper manufacturing as well.
Straw bales can insulate and support a house. Green home manufacturers are now constructing homes whose walls are bales of straw!!