Straw vs Hay: What’s The Difference Between Straw And Hay?

Last Updated on October 21, 2020 by Kimberly Crawford

Hay and straw are commonly confused especially when both are dried and baled.

We will cover some of the fundamental differences of straw and hay particularly their uses, where they come from, and their role in the garden.

If this is something that you have been wondering for long, we got all the answers for you.

difference between straw and hay

What is hay?

What is hay?

Hay or hay bales are very important in animal herding and a common fixture in farmlands. It has high nutrient content and as such, is used in making animal feed when animals cannot be grazed in grasslands.

It is made from combinations of different high nutrient plants like clover, alfalfa, grasses like Bermuda or ryegrass, and more. It is particularly significant in farmlands with long winter periods or during extended droughts. Farmers in these places depend on hay and turn them into bales to be fed to cattle, sheep, and horses. 

Farmers with much hay also specialize in producing hay bales to be sold to other farmers. However, it must be noted that hay bales contain a lot of moisture. So much so that it makes them flammable. This is the reason why plants made as hay should be completely dry or else they retain high moisture.

Another is that you can never be sure if hay bales contain 100% high nutrient plants. In some instances, you might be introducing weed on your farm with it. 

What is hay made of?

Hay is generally made of various plant combinations and turned into livestock feed. Hay is not a generic feed. Some are made of high carbohydrate plants for heavy-working animals such as horses and cows.

The plants that makeup hay are harvested when they are green. Specifically, they are cut and dried into hay bales shortly after they grow from the seeds. 

Hay in garden beds

Hay in garden beds

Hay is also a good compost option for garden beds. While it is not as visually pleasing compared to a straw when turned into mulch, it still provides better moisture levels and humidity to aid plant growth.

It is comparable to dry organic matter, wood chips, and sawdust as mulch, giving greater yield for plants. 

What is straw?

straw bales

Basically, straw is the by-product of the dried stems of wheat, barley, and other grains after harvest. It serves a different purpose compared to hay and generally has no value in terms of animal feed and others.

In some areas, straws are actually considered as waste by-products of harvest. Nonetheless, straws are used as stuffing for mattresses, used for animal beddings, used as a material in using straw hats or even baskets.

It is also used as mulch particularly for strawberry farms. It is also popular as fall or Halloween decoration and in makeshift houses/barns or thatched roofs. It is also tapped as a bioenergy source. 

What is straw made of?

Straw is made of the dried stalks of cereals and grains after harvest. The most common sources of straw are wheat, barley, oats, rice, and rye. It can be bundled using twigs or wire and is stored for uses beyond livestock feed. 

Where does straw come from?

Straw comes from the dried, hollow stems, stalks, seed heads of grains or cereals. Although you could also find balled straws, they are usually bundled or are formed into straw squares and are stored up for other uses. 

What is straw used for?

What is straw used for?

Straws do not have enough nutrient content to be made as livestock feed but some farmers still bank on it as filler. It has more practical uses compared to hay, though.

For one, straw is made as animal bedding, mattress stuffing, and a popular mulch because it provides good insulation. It is also used in construction specifically in making thatched roofs presumably for the same reason.

It is also processed as a source of biofuel. Perhaps, the most popular use of straw is in making straw baskets and straw hats. 

Types of straw

When it comes to straw, there are just a handful of types. There is the wheat straw bale, grain straw bale (composed of rice, barley, and rye stalks), and the buckwheat straw bale. Vegetables that will thrive well in straw bales would be strawberries, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. 

Straw for grass

Practically, straw in grass works like mulch. Straws are laid down in newly seeded grass lawns to keep moisture and to prevent birds and critters from munching on the sown seeds. They also keep the seeds intact by preventing them from being blown off by heavy winds and rain. 

Difference between hay and straw

Difference between hay and straw

To be clear, hay and straw are both plant by-products. The main difference is that straws come from dried stems/stalks after harvest and they have a distinct yellow and brown color.

On the other hand, hay is harvested fresh, balled into bales until they dry up. Straws are used for other purposes while the hay is used as livestock feed. Both are also used as mulch but straws are more common mulch than hay. 

Should I use hay or straw in my garden?

straw in garden

Given what we have covered above, there is just one resolution to this question. If you are only in need of mulch for insulation or retain moisture for your growing plants, use a straw. But if you need a high nutrient mulch that can be used as both insulation and compost, then you should go for hay. 

Is straw or hay cheaper?

Straw is way cheaper than hay. The average straw bale only costs under $3 while the hay bale starts at $7 and above. 

Does straw prevent weeds?

Leftover straw bale will cause weeds because of too much dampness. But good straw bales will prevent weeds from emerging and block hidden weeds from even thriving. This is because it holds moisture and dampness for a long time. 


You see, there are fundamental differences between hay and straw. Although both are crop by-products, their differentiating characteristics lie on their uses, their role in garden beds, and the nutrient level they have. Depending on how you will use them, it is easy to choose which one to use.