Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Cows Eat Hay and Sleep on Straw

 by Shanna Hatfield

   I love western romances. Many of you probably figured that out from the types of books I write.
   I also enjoy reading them, but there is one detail I've seen authors confuse many times that drives me crazy.
   A pet peeve that will cause me to close the book and never pick it up again is when a writer uses straw and hay interchangeably. Growing up on a farm, I’m here to tell you they are not the same thing. 
   Not even close. 

   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 bale 
   This is a bale of straw.
   Straw is golden-yellow from the inside out. The small bales are light and easy to carry. You might also see these in large bales. Back in the good ol' days, it might have forked into a tall pile.
   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.
   To clarify:
   Hay is what you feed cattle. 
   Straw is what you spread out for them to bed down.
   Think of straw like you would pork rinds — dry and crunchy without much nutritional value.
   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 do not feed the animals straw or line the stalls with hay for bedding.
USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield is convinced everyone deserves a happy ending and is out to make it happen, one story at a time. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances combine humor and heart-pumping moments with characters that seem incredibly real.
When she isn’t writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
The author is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Romance Writers of America, Sweet Romance Reads, and Pioneer Hearts.
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Anonymous said...

Yes, but a lot of people LIKE eating pork rinds...LOL Thanks so much for this very clear explanation, Shanna
(shivering in my boots as I dash to check whether I've ever made this mistake)

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I had no idea of the difference. Noodles, I hope I haven't made that error in one of my books as well. ;-)

Unknown said...

Having never been close to hay to stray except seeing them on trucks being moved from place to place. I had no idea. I hope I didn't make a big faux pas in one of my books. Thanks for educating me.


Paty Jager said...

It is amazing how many people and writers don't know the difference. If they had to pack or stack those bales or feed or bed down animals in a snow storm they'd know the difference. ;) Great post!

Shanna Hatfield said...

Thanks, gals! I hope the post is helpful to those who don't have a rural background. :)

Jacquie Rogers said...

Yay, you!!! It's always an eye-roll moment for me when authors feed their characters' horses straw. Hay and straw are only alike in that they are both baled. I'm so glad you wrote this article and I hope all western writers read it.