3 Reasons To Use Hay As Bedding Instead Of Straw

load of small square bales of hay on a pickup truck

Your animals need to have a nice bedded area everyday they are inside the barn, but sometimes you run out of straw.

Or the locally available straw is really expensive, especially the shiny yellow bales, so you’re looking for an alternative. Is hay an option?

Hay can be used as bedding material for your animals. While straw is the more traditional bedding choice, hay works just as well for absorbency and animal comfort. The main difference between hay and straw, bedding wise, is that since straw is light in color, it tends to brighten up the pen more than when using hay.

We prefer to use straw (vs hay) as bedding material for all of our animals.

Normally using straw is also the most economic choice for bedding that we have found around here so that’s what we use.

I also love how bright and clean the barn looks once the livestock pens have a new layer of straw put down.

Sometimes though, normal is not the situation you are in but your animals still need taken care of and you have to make it happen.

Using hay as bedding is an option, not an ideal option, just an option.

If your normal bedding material is not available or you just mess up and forget to keep enough of the normal stuff on hand, old hay can substitute.

Still not sure on the hay vs straw thing? Read my article The Differences Between Hay And Straw.

Grasses that would be used to make hay. On the left is Timothy, on the right is Orchard Grass.
Timothy is on the left and orchard grass is on the right.

Hay can be used as bedding

The main reasons to use hay as a bedding material rather than straw are:

  • cost of straw being unusually high
  • poor planning (we ran out of straw)
  • use up left over hay right before put animals on pasture

We have used hay to make it through the tight spots and take care of the livestock until we got more straw at the sale.

When prices came down a bit, we get more straw or when we were able to turn them out to pasture we don’t need that much bedding, anymore.

The hay we would be using as bedding is the less well made hay.

The hay was made late (so it is overgrown) or it got rained on before being baled. The quality of the hay as feed is lower than non rained on hay.

Any hay that looks good to you and the animals really like to eat is better fed, use the poor quality hay for bedding.

Jersey bottle calf sitting on straw bedding
Here is our bottle baby sitting on some straw.

Bedding with hay can be cheaper

Sometimes it happens, especially in a wet year, that nice straw was hard to get made.

That means anyone who did manage to get good looking straw baled will get top dollar at the sale for their beautiful straw.

This is only right, a well made product in high demand equals a high price. That’s good news for the farmer selling straw!

If high dollar straw could be over your budget, so what is plan B?

For us plan B when it comes to bedding is always using some not so great hay instead.

What are the common hay and straw prices in your area? Here is where I get Ohio information, Farm and Dairy Market Reports.

Of course I’m not saying to use the really great hay you have in your barn! No way, keep that to feed.

Use the not so great animals don’t care for it stuff for bedding.

Once the straw for the year is harvested, in our area that’s done in July, the price for straw usually comes down to the range we are willing to pay.

Here’s a look at hay vs straw, to give you a better idea of what you are looking at when buying bedding materials.

Use hay when you run out of straw

Sad but true, sometimes plans don’t match up with reality and we mess up and run out of straw. Not great, but it can be managed.

Usually by using (or quickly finding and buying) rained on hay.

This is actually one of the benefits of having a wet year, where hay and straw are hard to get made on time, the not so great rained on hay is easy to find.

If you have some rained on hay use it, if not look around on the internet for your local area, and see what you can come up with.

Using up leftover hay as bedding

At least around here, we tend to end up with miscellaneous amounts of not so great hay that would be super for bedding.

Or the very frustrating “the best we could get at the auction that week but the animals don’t like it” type hay.

You bought it, it’s hogging space in your barn, so you might as well get some use out of it. That’s the hay to use for bedding!

Spread out the hay the same as straw

Hay for bedding is spread out the same as when using straw for bedding.

If you have an animal that will toss around the bedding a little, like pigs or chickens, let them do most of the work for you.

Just toss in the flakes of bedding material and let the chickens or pigs have a good time messing with it and spreading it out at the same time.

Obviously, they will not move the bedding to all corners of the pen or up, like into nest boxes, that you will have to do yourself.

I toss the bedding to the area that I want the majority of the bedding to stay in and then let them carry around bits of it where ever else they want.

Manured hay bedding needs composted

Good news, hay bedded manure packs are cleaned out the same as when you use straw for bedding!

Whatever you normally do with your used bedding, like compost it, do the same with the hay based bedding.

Additionally, hay based manure packs will have more nutrition for the plants that get fertilized with the resulting compost.

Since hay has more nutrition than straw, manure packs bedded with hay will also have more nutrition in them than packs made with straw.

Using manure pack for compost

What to do with that manure? Consider composting it for your garden.

Corey Leichty, Do Not Disturb Gardening, has an article on the advantages and disadvantages of making compost with manure.

He is a fellow Ohioan and avid home gardener, check it out!

Straw for bedding is better than hay

So the final verdict here is use straw if you have it, for economic reasons alone.

Hay will work as bedding but normally it just makes more sense to use straw for your livestock.

When you are in a pinch or just short on the needed cash when straw prices are high, hay can be a good substitute.

Stick to straw as the normal bedding material choice for your livestock.

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