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Hay, Hay, & Haymakers Punch!

“They say making hay is difficult… I don’t know, it seems rather cut and dried.”

Hay is a type of grass that is cut and dried to be used as animal feed during winter months. Hay is a great source of nutrients and protein for livestock when they’re unable to graze. The process of growing, cutting, drying, and baling grass has been around for hundreds of years. Today, we’re going to discuss the process of making hay!

We often hear the terms, grass hay and alfalfa hay. Farmers will feed one or both as part of their feed ration. The protein content is one of the most significant differences between grass hay and alfalfa. Alfalfa hay has a higher protein content, with an average of 15% to 21%, depending upon when it was cut. This is significantly higher than grass hay’s protein levels, which usually contain 10% to 15%.

There are many different varieties of grasses grown for hay production. A few common grasses include Ryegrass, Timothy, Fescue, or Orchard grass.

Of course, like most crops, hay is grown from a seed that is planted in the spring. After a few months of growing, farmers cut the grass using a hay mower attached to a tractor. Farmers leave the cut hay to dry in the field before raking the hay into windrows.

It’s important that these steps are done on warm, sunny days as rain can damage or spoil the crop. After the hay is dried, it is then raked and baled into either round or square bales.

Farmers tend to use the larger, round bales if they have more livestock to feed rather than the smaller and lighter square bales. Once hay is baled, it’s stored, typically in a building or a structure with a roof to protect it from the weather. Farmers can usually make 2-3 cuttings of hay throughout the summer season.

During the 18th and 18th century, baling hay was an extremely laborious job! In order to help hydrate farmers, a new drink was created called Haymaker’s Punch or Switchel. This old-fashioned summer drink is still loved by many. The recipe below was found in The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

  • 1 gallon water

  • 1 ½ cups molasses

  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

  • Optional: teaspoon of fresh lemon/lime juice

Try out this refreshing recipe like a true haymaker!

Check out our hay video and lesson activities! November | mysite (

While hay is an extremely common crop in Iowa, it’s not to be mistaken with straw. Straw is the leftover dried stalks of cereal plants. Straw, while edible, isn’t often used as feed for livestock as it lacks much nutritional value. It is typically used as bedding for animals since it repels moisture and holds heat. Straw can also be used for biofuel and gardening as it offers great nutrients for compost! If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between hay and straw, check out our Hay v Straw lesson on youtube!


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