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Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress by

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Chapter 4. Filling Dwarf Bellies

Producing food is vital in Dwarf Fortress. Without it your dwarves will starve, causing them to work poorly and forcing them to consume vermin to survive (at least for a while). As you would expect, starving to death creates an unhappy thought in a dwarf’s head, and too many unhappy thoughts may turn an otherwise hard-working and industrious dwarf into a homicidal maniac intent on turning his best friend’s skull into a macabre totem (this is literally true). To avoid this fate we must farm, harvest, fish, and butcher our way to a healthy food supply. And once we have some food, let’s get all fancy and try our hand at cooking it.

In this chapter we will lay the foundations for abundant food production while discussing some alternative and advanced strategies you may consider at a later date. If something in this chapter doesn’t make sense, come back to it—there are so many interlocking elements in Dwarf Fortress that learning them sequentially can be nearly impossible. Dwarf Fortress is best treated as a gaming buffet. Take a few bites here and there before returning for seconds.

Chickens and Eggs

Which came first? The chicken, of course, because we embarked with chickens. Now let’s get them producing. As you may recall, we built some nest boxes at the Craftsdwarf’s Workshop. Nest boxes will be claimed by our chickens when they go to lay eggs. Unless those eggs are gathered and placed in a food pile they will eventually hatch into baby chickens so long as a rooster is on the map. But in order to start our chicken empire we will need to place the nest boxes somewhere that can be accessed by our chickens. In order to do that we need to specify an area of ground as pasture for the chickens to scratch around on.

Chickens (and all other fowl) don’t need to live outside as they don’t graze on grass. As such, you can either dig out a large room for them or just use some flat space outside your fortress for their pasture. For now, a 10×10 room will suffice, but in time you may need a larger space to prevent overcrowding. Creatures that are crowded become aggressive, and are prone to attacking each other and even your dwarves. You will see alerts along the bottom of the screen if your chickens get aggressive and seem likely in need of more space.

Let’s get on with specifying a pasture zone and placing all of our chickens in it. We will then place the nest boxes in the middle of the pasture so that the hens can claim the boxes and lay eggs in them. It won’t be long until we have many little chicks running around being adorable and consuming CPU cycles with their path-calculation requirements.

Let’s start by pressing i for Zones . Find either an outside area near your entrance or the room you have dug out, and then mark out an area of at least 10×10 squares. If you make a mistake, find the zone using i , press x , and then press X to remove it. Once you have created a suitable zone, you will see the right info panel change its header to Activity Zone 1 , and it will present you with some options. Set this zone to Pen/Pasture using the n key. You can then, as you will see from the list of commands at the bottom of the panel, press N to change the zone’s settings.

You should now see a list of animals. Scroll through the list and as you see an animal that isn’t a dog or a cat, press enter to assign it to the pasture. If your pasture is inside you should not assign grazers such as cows, yaks, horses, or camels to your rocky pen as they will starve to death. Create another large 20×20 pasture outside for these creatures. Be ruthless; even if your dwarves are keeping pet lambs who adorably follow your dwarves around, assign them to your outside pasture or they will eventually starve to death underground. Animal fodder isn’t usually available deep underground, at least not until you breach the caverns and cave moss spreads. Don’t feel heartbroken; your dwarves much prefer living pets to dead ones (which, again, can result in unhappy thoughts and the whole skulls-on-poles thing).

When you unpause the game your dwarves will rush about moving animals to the pasture. There is usually no need for any fences around your fields—your animals are mostly quite obedient and dwarves will return them to their pasture if they do stray. However, your livestock can be popular targets for any invaders, so eventually you may want to wall in your pasture, build ditches, or move your pasture deep underground.

If you do plan to keep a number of grazing animals for your food supply, keep in mind that even large pasture can easily be grazed bare by only a few animals. If you have more than a dozen grazing creatures, consider creating several pastures for your animals and spreading them around. The last thing you want is an enraged yak crushing a beloved lamb’s skull.

With your chicken pasture established, it is time to build your nest boxes. Press b-N , which will allow you to select where to place your first nest box. The middle of the chicken pasture makes sense, so place your first nest box there and repeat the process until all remaining nest boxes are placed. When you resume the game the boxes will be installed and should the chickens feel in an egg-laying mood, they will be claimed by hens. As eggs have been forbidden from being kept in your food stockpile the eggs will sit there until they hatch. You can examine the contents of the nest boxes using t , if you wish.

With each nest box placed you should have one box per chicken in the pasture. As you raise hens to maturity you should place more nest boxes to provide room for your chickens to lay eggs. One box per chicken is ideal; less may result in fewer eggs laid and available to your dwarves.

Other egg-laying creatures may claim your nest boxes. Alligators, giant eagles, and even dragons have been known to claim nest boxes and lay eggs.

Once your first batch of eggs hatch and you have a dozen or more chicks running about you may chose to re-enable eggs in your food stockpile by revisiting it, pressing q , then s , selecting Food , finding Egg , and pressing p for Permit Eggs . Alternately, wait until you have a fifteen to twenty matures hens—more than enough to provide your fortress with a good supply of food in addition to what you will be growing in your farms. Note that you only need one rooster, so any surplus roosters can be butchered for their meat, bones, and skin, a topic we’ll cover later in this chapter.

Harvesting eggs, while relatively easy, is only the first step in turning them into food for your dwarves. Dwarves prefer their eggs cooked, which requires us to build a Kitchen. We will examine Kitchens more closely later in the chapter.

It is important to note that chickens aren’t the only egg-laying creatures available to you in Dwarf Fortress. The full list of egg layers is enormous, but in terms of poultry that Dwarves are able to embark with, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, and blue peafowl are also an option for fortress managers. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages (explained in Table 4-1), but suffice to say the choice of which to farm is up to you. It has been suggested that embarking with two different types of poultry can be useful as it is easy to ban, say, chicken eggs while farming duck eggs, and then once the chicken population has grown, switching it around and farming chicken eggs while hatching more ducks. In this way your dwarves can enjoy eating eggs shortly after your fortress is founded, reducing the risk of early starvation.

DF2014:Rat weed

Rat weed is an inferior crop, on the level of muck roots and prickle berries. It can be eaten raw, cooked or made into sewer brew. However, it is not as delicious as any of the underground crops.

Rat weed is notable in that it has cookable seeds, providing both food and booze in one cheap item (although strawberries are better if they’re also available), and making disposing of their seeds easier if you chose to embark on a biome where farming aboveground crops is impossible.