by Molly Noble Bull
This is a photo of haying long ago.
Who can forget the story of Ruth, gathering grain after the harvest? Or the story of Baby Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Originally, grain and hay were cut by scythes and gathered into sheaves by hand. Then the grain or hay was placed into stacks or shocks in the field until it could be stored.
The picture above is of a wheat stack in 19th century Australia.
Cattle, goats, sheep, and horses are called grazing animals. They like to eat grass grown in pasturelands, especially green grass. But during a drought or in the winter months, grazing might not be possible. That is when hay fills the gap.
The word hay is a generic term for grass that has been cut, dried and stored, and the first hay bales I ever saw were not square or round, they were rectangular like the ones in the photos above and below.
The next photo was taken in Massachusetts in 1936 of two men loading hay on a truck.
Straw is made from the stems of grain crops such as oats, barley, and wheat. The stems are dried and sometimes baled after the grain is harvested. Straw is used for animal bedding but considered poor animal fodder.
Grasses commonly used for hay include rye, brome, fescue, timothy, orchard grass, Coastal Bermuda, and other native grasses. Alfalfa hay is commonly used, but coastal is favored here in South Texas where I live.
With the birth of modern baling equipment, round bales are found in my area more often than square and rectangular bales—probably because they hold more hay. But for smaller outfits where the farmer or rancher must load the bales by hand, rectangular bales are still popular.
Whether square, rectangular or round, hay bales and straw will be around as long as there are farmers or ranches that care for the land.