Straw and Hay

A black and white photo circa 1917 of a farmer and a child ride a horse drawn 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.


In Their Own Words

Hear stories about Cuyahoga Valley life below.


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

Black and white photo of a steam engine and crew posing in front of an old building.
In the early 20th century, farmers used a steam engine to power their threshing machine.

Courtesy/Bath Township Historical Society


Last updated: December 20, 2021

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