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Different kinds of hay or straw?

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by kuntrychick, Nov 17, 2011.

  1. kuntrychick

    kuntrychick Songster

    Jul 19, 2009
    What all kinds of hay & straw are there & what are the uses of it in regards to chickens?

    I know there's alfalfa hay. I know there's wheat straw. What all uses are it and other kinds of hay & straw for chickens?

    I know they would scratch in it regardless, but do they eat it? What kinds are used for bedding?

    Is there some to avoid & why?

    Where can I get all of these? The local feed & seed? TSC? Local farmer?

  2. 1muttsfan

    1muttsfan Crowing

    Mar 26, 2011
    Upper Peninsula Michigan
    Hi, there are indeed different types of both hay and straw.
    Hay is cut standing grass, clover, alfalfa, weeds, etc. which is dried and baled while green and growing. It makes a good treat for them to pick through because it had leaves and seeds. It does not absorb moisture well, and if dusty (dust means mold spores ) can cause respiratory issues indoors.
    Straw is the hollow stems of fully mature grains like wheat, oats and rice. While it may have a little grain left in it, it has little food value. It is, however, better at absorbing moisture, and is smoother and less picky than hay, so is better bedding (although I use wood shavings in my coop, I like to use straw in the nest boxes). Again, avoid dusty straw.
    The type of hay or straw is probably less important, and may depend on where you live. Up her we have oat straw and mixed grass/clover hay, both work just fine
    Both can be found at feed stores and farms, check craigs list too.
    Always store both in a dry location off the ground.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2011
  3. Yonaton

    Yonaton Songster

    Jun 28, 2007
    West TN
    I don't agree with 1muttsfan on everything. The different types of hays and straws, yes, agreed. In my experience though, hay absorbs wetness just as well as straw does. The only time I've ever seen hay get 'moldy' is when it *does* get wet and is a bale form still (round and square) and isn't turned on its side to try to dry it out (if it got left in a pouring rain though, there's no drying it out well without busting the bale open, hence hay absorbs wetness quite well. Take a square bale of hay and a square bale of straw and pour a bucket of water on each, turn them up on their sides to dry. Open them up a day later and see which is more wet still).

    If the hay is 'dusty', bust it open and look in the bale. If there isn't any mold, it's just regular dust, no different from walking in the field before it was cut for baling, it just gets in the air a little easier now because it's 'dry' instead of a wet, growing green. Won't hurt a thing, but like I said, crack the bale if you suspect it's had any water on/in it for any amount of time to check for mold.

    They hay *always* has something the birds will like to eat, even some of the grasses and legumes and especially any seeds of any kind. As 1muttsfan said, straw really has no food value whatsoever. The birds *love* hay. Depending on the type of hay, I prefer it also to straw for the nest boxes, simply because it smells good/better, absorbs well, and any chicks can eat it if they want/can as soon as they pop out of an egg.

    A farmers co-op is where one can probably find straw. Hay, around these parts, one just has to know who sells it and when they cut and bale because there's so many folk around here with horses that getting the hay is pretty hard sometimes (if it gets where I can't find any bales of hay for sale, I go back home and break out the tractor and bushog my tall grass areas and I have my own hay a few days later (I can get about 3 bales worth doing this and that will last til almost next cutting when I go look for hay for sale again, lol)). With hay or straw, put down two or three 2x4's on edge or even better, some oak pallets, and then stack the bottom layer on its side, that way it won't hold moisture as badly if it does happen to get wet somehow. The reason I say oak pallets is that the oak won't rot and collapse near as quickly as plain pine pallets will if they have to sit on wet soil for any long periods of time.
  4. wyododge

    wyododge Chirping

    Sep 30, 2011
    If your gonna buy hay or straw, both very well described above BTW, try to get it at the source. For horses and cows, try to get weed free. But for chickens, I use the weedy stuff. They will benefit from all the seeds that are in the weeds, and generally weedy hay has weed grasses as well. Weedy hay, is generally going to be less expensive. 1st cutting hay has more weeds then 2nd cutting, 2nd cutting has more than 3rd, etc. I like to buy it at the source as you can ask the farmer what he has, and tell him what you are looking for. Most all of us, can pinpoint the exact hay you are looking for in our 'stacks' as we know which and what part of the field they came from. I have read that chickens get crop bound from alfalfa, but I think that may be more of a free range vs. run chickens. chickens in a run may not have access to the pebbles and rocks needed to run the grinders inside them. Not sure, but there is hay readily available for mine, my mothers, my neighbors and most others in the area. Haven't heard of a problem identified to alfalfa around here.

    You can generally see mold in small square bails as well. It will be a dark streak in the bail. pull out a bit, and you can smell the mold.

    If the hay was rained on, then dried and bailed properly it will be dusty. I have never found an answer as to why, but my late neighbor figured wet hay caught more dust in the air when the rain made it wet, and it got 'stuck' on the leaves and stems. As far as causing respiratory ailments, I'm not so sure. There is dust and mold all over the place that chickens scratch and kick up all the time when eating or bathing. My personal opinion is one has nothing to do with the other and respiratory ailment is a symptom of a different underlying issue. Just my opinion, I have no periodicals, books, veterinary experience or medical council to back that up.

    We use barley straw here, cause they grow barley for coors and budweiser. We only use straw for the nest boxes, shavings on the coop floor. Most of our straw goes into the garden to amend the soil. They do eat it, scratch through it and find the few seeds left over. Mine started nesting in the stack in the barn. Any local straw is used for bedding, my mother used to use straw for bedding then I told her about shavings. The shavings are easier to clean out with a shovel I think, so did she. But again, personal preference there. Straw bails do make a nice place to sit and enjoy your coffee in the morning while you watch your chickens and are also about half the weight of hay bails.
  5. Strikefalcon

    Strikefalcon Chirping

    Oct 13, 2011
    Although we have not been raising chickens very long I have allready decided that it is easier for me to learn from the chickens than vice versa. We started with wood chips in the nesting box. The hens only pooped in there until I found their nest in the grass. So I emptied the nest box and filled it with grass that I cut from where they were laying. Not that I've looked very hard but I haven't seen any poop inthe nest yet. I aways fluff up the grass after picking the eggs.
  6. galanie

    galanie Treat Dispenser No More

    Aug 20, 2010
    My girls only like straw. They couldn't give two flips for any kind of regular hay or even alfalfa, just straw. When you consider that any straw has to be trucked in from about 800 miles plus away, you'd think that would be an expensive taste. But it's not, because with the drought we had, wheat straw trucked in from Kansas to the Texas gulf coast is actually cheaper than locally grown hay. The problem is finding it.
  7. 1muttsfan

    1muttsfan Crowing

    Mar 26, 2011
    Upper Peninsula Michigan
    I stand by my dusty hay info. Hay that is improperly baled with too high a moisture content molds inside the bale. properly baled hay has no dust in it at all. If you break open a bale and see dust fly out, that hay was not baled properly.

  8. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Crowing Premium Member

    Clean, yellow oat or wheat straw is what I prefer as well. The hens adore it. They thrash about in it. It decomposes well in my market gardens, which is a must. At $3-$3.50 a bale, right from the field, it is far cheaper than wood shavings as well. I keep some shavings around, but kinda pricey.

    The cost of alfalfa hay here is too high. I think, for me, a better value is buying the top grade alfalfa pellets for horses. Excellent food value, easy to deal with.
  9. homesteadapps

    homesteadapps Songster

    Nov 8, 2010
    Alfalfa pellets may be nice if storage space is limited, but good hay fresh from the field just seems better, to me. Better value too at $3.75 per 60 pound bale then I'm guessing at least $12.00 for a 50 pound bag???

    Nice thing about actual hay is the animals: goats, chickens, rabbits can browse through it. It gives them something to do.

    Alfalfa depending on the age (years) of the plant and the season it is grown can contain protein in the mid to upper 30% range.

    We actually prefer clover for the animals, but alfalfa is good to. The clover we've been using is very leafy and is perfect for the chicks.

    Grass hay makes great bedding, composts well, and seems to be more absorbent than straw, in our experience.

    About dust: Some dust can be normal, but if the dust is excessive or looks like smoke, or smells odd then open up the bale and start looking for the mold. The bale should smell good and look fresh.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2011
  10. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Crowing Premium Member

    Quote:Sure, at your price? Not a problem. Here, alfalfa is $7-$9 a 40# bale. Factor out the stems, and its about a wash.

    TSC here gets $16 a 50# bale for goodness sake.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2011

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