Straw and Hay

Farmer and hay wagon.
Farmer and hay wagon, 1917.

NPS Collection.

Livestock farmers need to feed and provide bedding for their animals. They either grow hay and straw themselves, or purchase it from others.

To make hay, farmers grow certain grasses, which they then cut and cure. Several nutritional grasses and legumes can be used for hay, including alfalfa, clover, and timothy. Farmers cut and dry the grasses and then use the hay as animal fodder. Hay-making requires an understanding of when to cut each particular type of grass. Farmers need several consecutive days of fair weather for the hay to dry. Hay-making is both a science and an art.


To make straw, farmers grow wheat and other grasses, which they then cut and dry to form hollow stalks of grain. Straw is mainly used for bedding, mulch, and feed, although it has less nutritional value than hay. In the 19th century, farmers knocked grass heads off the stalks over a threshing floor. They then raked up the straw and gathered the wheat separately for animal feed or to make flour.

In the early 20th century, threshing wheat brought neighboring farmers together as a communal labor pool. Before farmers had modern methods to process wheat and other grasses, friends and neighbors volunteered to help each other. During the threshing season, farmers moved from field to field with a noisy steam engine that rattled and shook as it powered the threshing machine.

Oral history audio.

In Their Own Words
Click the topics to hear stories about Cuyahoga Valley life.

Wheat Threshing (23 seconds)
Threshing by Steam Engine (38 seconds)
Pat Morse, who grew up near Hale Farm, describes community wheat threshing in the 1940s.

Curing Hay (1 minute 3 seconds)
Ernest Ogrinc, a Valley View farmer, describes the modern process of curing hay.


Since the mid-19th century, Dorcas Snow's family produced straw and hay on their farm in Brecksville. In the following passage, from her memoir Dear Brecksville, Dorcas describes neighbors helping her father thresh wheat.

"At threshing time, Father never had any trouble getting enough help as Mother had a dinner for the men that was fit for a king, all the way from fried chicken to apple pie. I was always worried for fear there would not be any left but Mother assured me that she had some extra saved for the helpers."
Dorcas Snow, Brecksville, 1976

Steam engine.
In the early 20th century, farmers used a steam engine to power their threshing machine.

Courtesy/Bath Township Historical Society


Last updated: December 10, 2018

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