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This article is a quick guide to running a meat and related goods industry. If you decide to base your economy on such then keep in mind that the amount available depends on the breeding rate of your tame animals (how long the offspring takes to be born and mature), the spawning of wild animals, and/or the amount of meat and leather that traders bring.
Note that the meat industry involves many materials which can rot and so requires slightly more micromanagement than other industries.
Summary: Obtain some animals; kill and butcher them to obtain bones, (organ-)meat, fat, skull/horns and raw hides; the meat can be used immediately but the hide needs to be tanned into leather and the fat needs to be processed into tallow; finally cook the tallow into a meal (or make soap with it), and craft the bones, skull, horns and leather into an end product.
The basic units of the meat industry are its animals, and there are a number of methods to acquire said animals (note that the related fishing industry is its own matter).
You can buy animals on embark, and doing so even allows you to chose from male and female animals. Since you need only one male to breed, an example way to kick-start your meat industry is to embark you could embark with one bull and 3 cows. Note, though, that with the exception of cats, dogs and poultry, buying animals on embark is extremely expensive. You also get two random draft animals on embark for each wagon (usually one wagon with two draft animals). These can be butchered when needed, or be kept in the hopes that traders or immigrants will supply matching animals for breeding. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need to buy one: If you happen to have a female, chances are that sooner rather than later it will meet a companion among the traders' many pack animals; see breeding, below.
As with most industry goods, you can purchase both animals and processed meat and leather from caravans, allowing you to vary your dwarves' diet without having to establish a meat industry proper. Note however that trading will never give you hair, horns, skulls, or bones in general. If you want to keep your leatherworkers constantly occupied, buying up caravans' (often vast) collections of leather is cheap way to get your fort clothed quickly.
It might be necessary that you request every type of leather at low priority in order to ensure the merchant comes back with a large quantity next year (they usually bring excessive amounts even if you don't). You can only buy leather from human and dwarven caravans. Elven caravans are interesting in that they often bring a small number of tame caged animals with them, which may be useful as pets (such as silvery gibbons) or for defense purposes (such as grizzly bears).
In all but the most inhospitable of places, there will be some
running food wildlife frolicking in the biome. An ambusher armed with a crossbow and a quiver full of bolts can and will attack these animals, cautiously approaching them ("ambushing", their speed and chances of not being noticed being dependent on their skill) before opening fire at their quarry with crossbow bolts. Hunting is a very outdoorsy activity, and will take your hunters well past where you can establish reasonable defenses; in addition hunters will occasionally do stupid things that will get them maimed, such as hunting lions, or worse still, killed in grisly ways, such as attacking elephant families.
Upon a successful kill the dwarf will return the kill, carrying the corpse back to the nearest butcher's shop to be torn apart, or the nearest refuse stockpile if no shop has been built yet. Hunters are rather single-minded; when hunting, they will ignore other animals besides their quarry, even if others are more easily attacked or less dangerous to do so against. Although multiple kills happen, hunters generally only return their quarry, or quit when they run out of bolts. To avoid wasting perfectly edible corpses, you need to change your standing orders (o) to Gather refuse from outside, although this will enable much more than ambusher kill returning.
Hunting makes an erratic but, when done by a skilled ambusher, very worthy meat source. It takes the bother of pasturing animals away, but comes at the trade off of defensibility. Many players on mature fortresses are simply too concerned with enemy sieges and the like to send dwarves out too far, and will thus disable hunting jobs on their dwarves.
You can order your soldiers out to kill wild animals by selecting their squads or the soldiers individually (for a basic outline of such actions, see attack). This takes some management, but is particularly useful if a large herd appears and you want to get them all before they emigrate to less blood-soaked pastures; be prepared to process them all, however, as you do not want your potential foodstuffs to rot away if your butcheries are overloaded. Soldiers will not kill or butcher domestic or tame animals. Take note that soldiers will attack animals regardless of the target you've given them, as they will attack the nearest non-friendly creature in sight when told to move somewhere or kill a target.
Your soldiers must generally be very agile to catch up with a running animal before it leaves the edge of the map, and attacking with melee always carries the risk of getting your soldiers maimed or killed, so as you might expect military hunting is mainly for the crossbow dwarves.
It is also possible to catch animals through judicious use of cage traps. Building cage traps where animals will walk will ensure that some of them will be caught; dwarves with the Animal Hauling labor can then haul the occupied cages away and mechanics will reload the traps with fresh cages.
Cage traps should be built where animals will walk, not where they are when you decide to trap them. Any dwarves sent out to create and arm traps in the animals' midst will scare them away or (worse) trigger their aggression.
To successfully trap large animals you need to build choke points into your map. The destruction of ramps to create sheer cliffs is the easiest way to force them to go down a particular route; with the construction of walls, ponds, channels, and so forth, you can force them to walk right through your cage traps. Such obstacles and traps will also work against invading forces, as shown in the article on trap architecture.
Leave a small gap one or two tiles wide (depending on how many of the critters you want to trap) and build your cage traps there. If the animals haven't moved off or been scared off by the time you're done, and they're docile enough to not attack once they see your dwarves, use military orders to send a dwarf (or several) around behind the animals and herd them toward the choke point.
Note that when using channels and ponds together to create a choke point, connecting the channel all the way up to the pond's edge will end up draining the pond. If this is undesirable for your fort's water supply plans, be sure to leave a tile between the edge of the pond and the edge of the channel, and build a cage trap or wall instead.
Note also that cage traps cannot be built within a certain number of tiles of the map edge, so when planning your funnels and choke points, be sure to leave four or five tiles as a buffer zone.
Many animals in Dwarf Fortress are capable of breeding if a male and female are on the map. You can elect to bring a breeding pair at embark, or purchase them from traders at a later date. Some immigrants will bring pets or stray animals with them, often to the effect of forming or completing breeding pairs. Remember that you only ever need one male: the only non-butchering product male animals produce, besides reproduction, is wool, and only a few of them. For this reason having one male bull and ten female cows is a good idea. As an aside, the lucky bull loves that arrangement.
Using cage traps judiciously (or taking advantage of the animals elves trade) can sometimes snag you a breeding pair of wild animals. These can be used to establish crazy schemes, like alligator farms and giant eagle hatcheries. Tame something unusual and start something crazy if you get lucky enough! Many creatures can be tamed, but it can take a long time for exotic animals and they will slowly revert to wild state if left unattended; a skilled animal trainer is a real blessing in this regard.
There is currently a per type population cap, currently observed to be around 50, past which animals will not get pregnant; existing pregnancies will mature to term, and once some adults are slaughtered, the population can begin moving up again.
To keep your animal population growing you should preferably butcher the males except for one of each species you are breeding, because one male is enough to impregnate all the females. The number of males does not affect how frequently the females give birth as long as you have at least one (which can also be a pet). To hem in an exploding population, you should preferably butcher the females.
Tame animals with the [GRAZER:<value>] token (most herbivores) need to constantly munch on grass to survive, and as such require a pasture containing grass, cave moss, or floor fungus to graze upon, or they will starve to death. Elephants and rhinoceroses in particular are bugged at the moment; they cannot eat fast enough to keep up with their grazing needs, and as such will slowly starve to death if tamed.
Pastures are simple enough to build (unless you've embarked someplace where it rains fun). Designate a grassy area as a pasture activity zone (i-n), set (N) the animals to be released onto the pasture, and your dwarves will haul the designated animals to it - this does not require any specific labor, and much like harvesting food, will be performed by all dwarves, even those with all hauling jobs disabled. Once in the pasture, the animals will munch on all the grass they need, as long as there is enough of it.
Pastures can be easily depleted if the herd of animals on it is large enough; in addition, having too many animals on a pasture at once will lead to fights, which can seriously maim and injure your livestock. Since an above-ground pasture requires a significant plot of land, it is a major security concern - having enough grazing land for your animals while also keeping them protected from invading goblins is an important concern. A solution is to use the fact that livestock can graze on floor fungus and the like as easily as on regular old grass, and wall off a pasture inside of a cavern layer or set them loose in your underground tree farm.
Animals that don't require a constant stream of plant matter, like poultry, can be put in any pasture and do fine in them. The basis of egg production is a pasture with nest boxes in it.
A strategy to improve your framerate is to restrain most of your livestock near your butcher's shop, as a large number of free-roaming animals will reduce your game speed. Additionally it reduces the amount of time it takes butchers to track down and retrieve animals they are to slaughter.
Animals on restraints still can path (1 tile in any direction from the chain/rope), and that can hurt your framerate. When placed in "holding pens" consisting of closed 1x1 rooms, the animals have nowhere to go and so pathing is not a problem. Creating and managing such rooms can be difficult, however. Pits and Pastures can be adapted for this purpose.
To move animals in and out of pens, doors are the best choice, with floodgates and (raising) bridges as alternatives. To get the framerate benefit, doors should be "forbidden" but "pet-passable", since non-pet-passable state of doors is not taken into account during calculation of paths. Cold, hard reality stops pets at tightly closed doors, but they continue to calculate paths through them while bumping their heads into the door. Pets in cages help framerate the most, followed closely by restraints, since the search space bottoms out after only 2 moves (corner to corner). Pens with blocked access are also very effective, as pathing will stop as soon as the space of the pit is exhausted, so it's like a restraint with a slightly longer leash. Moving of animals in and out of such pens requires player intervention, via unlocking doors or issuing "pull lever" orders to open floodgates or bridges. It would be quite extreme, but such a collection of 1x1 pits could be an effective way of stopping pathfinding while retaining breeding. One could even use bars instead of floodgates, and have a really proper zoo/cage.
All that being said, the framerate impact of large numbers of tame animals is notable but not crippling - a fort can have 200 animals moving about more or less freely without being brought to its knees. While caging particularly fecund non-grazers makes sense to reduce unit clutter, extreme measures are not really called for to preserve framerate.
A common strategy is to cage all your young until matured because they do not give the same amount of bones, meat, and fat as adults. Some tamed wild species take more than 1 year to mature, unlike most domestic animals; this makes it excusable to butcher, for instance, elephant calves right away, as they take ten years to mature.
- Cages can hold an unlimited number of animals, so you only need one.
- Caged animals do not path, and therefore, do not consume a lot of processor speed.
- Distinguishing between breeding animals and butcherable livestock is easier when clearly separated.
- Caged cats cannot adopt owners (thus decreasing the chances of a catsplosion).
- You can define a zoo from a cage, increasing overall fortress wealth, dwarven happiness, and so on.
The livestock of a large meat industry requires a lot of pasture space that might not be safe on the surface. Creating an underground pasture is more secure and relatively simple after discovering the caverns. Floor fungus and other such underground "grass" will begin to grow anywhere there is soil or mud. You can take advantage of this by digging out a large room in a soil layer and waiting for floor fungus to grow. Limit dwarven traffic in your pasture levels to prevent plant trampling, and then wait a bit for the floor fungi and cave moss to grow dense enough to support your livestock. Forbidden doors and hatches or a restricted area traffic designation can be helpful for this. Once ready, make a new pasture and move the livestock underground.
You can also create pastures in stone layers, but the area will need to be cleared of all excess stone and irrigated to create mud, enabling plant growth. The easiest way to do this is to dig out a level of rock and then either redirect some river flow or drain some small lakes to provide the necessary water. Once every tile of stone floor has been muddied, drain the water and wait for the underground vegetation to grow.
Slaughtering and butchering
Animals can be marked for slaughter in the animal status screen. Animals marked for slaughter will queue a "Slaughter animal" task at a butcher's shop, be dragged there by a dwarf with the butcher labor and put down.
Once an animal has been killed it must then be butchered before the corpse rots. This happens instantly in the case of slaughtering. The corpses provided by hunters take some time to pry apart and in a fort with very few available workers, corpses can rot before anybody finds the time to process them. An animal corpse or body part is available if it is inside the butcher's shop or within a certain distance of the shop. Butcher's shops will only scan a limited amount of area (about 20 tiles in every direction) for butcherable corpses. If the corpse is too far away, the workshop will not task it. Putting a refuse pile accepting corpses and body parts close to the butcher's shop is therefore required to make sure "collateral" kills of hunters and the military are processed. The skill of the butcher only affects the time taken for the butcher animal task, not the amount produced, nor the quality.
Once butchered, the animal will yield one skull (though hydras produce more than one), and may also produce a raw hide, a number of (prepared)(organ-)meat pieces, and/or bones. Animal size and chance determines the exact yield. Very small animals, such as cavies or weasels will produce only a skull when slaughtered. If a hunter kills such an animal, it will not be butchered, and you will not even get the skull. Depending on the animal type, the butchered animal may also yield horns, hoofs, fat, and/or cartilage.
Butchering of hunted or otherwise killed (not slaughtered) animals will produce a proportionate amount of meat, bones and skin for every butchered item, as long as the body part is big enough (otherwise, the butchers will simply ignore it). An animal chopped into several pieces by the military can thus give several hides of leather, while slaughtering a tame animal will only produce one. It will not grant more meat, fat, or bones, however.
Meat and fat goes to your food stockpile. Bones, horns, hoofs, hair, cartilage and raw hides go to the refuse stockpile. Cartilage has no use and should be disposed of, but you would be well put to create custom stockpiles for hides next to your tanner's shop (see Tanning below), for bones/horns/hoofs next to your craftsdwarves workshop (see Bone carving below), and changing the settings on your main refuse pile to not accept bones, horns/hoofs and hides. Hair can be spun into low-value thread at the farmer's workshop.
If it takes too long for the butchered parts to be hauled into the stockpile, the food will rot and miasma spread. To prevent this, it is advisable to build the butcher's workshop outside of the fortress, near refuse piles (you may want it inside the walls though). The fresh air prevents miasma spreading. Miasma doesn't spread through diagonal openings, so a clever architect might isolate the smell in a 3x3 room with the shop.
If the animal is butchered just before it rots, the products of the animal MAY not rot. It is unknown whether the time of rotting for butchering products is based on the time of death of the animal or the time of production of the butchering returns.[Verify]
In some instances - most notably, after rhesus macaque or mandrill invasions, or killing some other large herd with your soldiers - you may find yourself with more bodies and severed body parts than you can process. In this case it is a good idea to set up some temporary extra butcher and tanners' shops (and butcher and tanner workers) to process them all before they rot. Butchers are more important because these workshops have a tendency to get cluttered quickly. Setting up a new workshop takes but a moment, so one might even construct a whole chamber of them and suspend the butchering job in all the cluttered shops.
The value of an animal product is multiplied by the species' multiply value; items from common domestic animals like cows and horses have a multiplier of 1x, which pales in comparison with those made from more exotic wild animals (usually between 2x and 4x, although some, like elephants, hit 5x); the distinction for the highest value multiplier goes to the dragon and the roc, whose meat is worth 15 times that of an ordinary cow's. An animal's value multiplier can be found in the creature raw files.
The primary output of the meat industry is the titular meat. Meat comes in two flavors: meat proper, that is the muscle tissue removed from the animal, and prepared organs like prepared brain, tripe, sweetbread, and so on. Both can be either eaten raw or cooked into a meal.
Butchering an animal also produces some number of units of fat, which must be processed into tallow at the kitchen. Tallow is very useful for a fort as ingredient in the making of soap. Soap plays an important role in staving off infections when performing operations and cleaning wounds in your hospital, as well as increasing happiness from dwarves being able to clean themselves; it's recommended to stock your hospitals and baths with at least some bars of it. See soap on the exact details of processing.
Tallow can also be cooked. However, tallow is produced in single units and has low value and as such will result in rather small stacks of moderate-value meals. It is much more useful as a soap input. If your meat industry is small, you may be better off disabling the cooking of tallow in the kitchen status screen. With a large meat industry, you'll produce large amounts of tallow, and cooking it makes sense in this case, since your need for soap (which also consumes otherwise valuable wood) is limited.
Butchering an animal produces a number of bones. Craftsdwarves with bone carving enabled can turn these into bone crafts or bone bolts, bone decorations or a few wearable items (bone helms and the like) at a craftsdwarf's workshop. Bowyers can use them to make bone crossbows at a bowyer's workshop. These various products can be traded, used to equip your marksdwarves, and used for practice, respectively (bone bolts are better than wooden ones, but inferior to metal bolts, and thus should not be used extensively militarily).
Skulls can only be used to make totems at a craftdwarf's workshop, for trading. Virtually all animals produce a single skull when they die; the only exception is the hydra, which produces seven. Totems do not fall under any category in the "Move trade goods to depot" screen, so you need to search for them. Usually however they will be in a finished goods bin, so just transport the bins to the depot.
Hooves and horns
Animals with hooves and/or horns will produce generic "horn" once butchered. These can be used to create horn trade goods or decorate items at a craftsdwarf's workshop.
Butching produces a raw hide, or scales or chitin (currently unusable), depending on the animal. Raw hides can be tanned at a tanner's shop and made into usable leather, an input into the leather industry. It's quite difficult to have a meat industry large enough to keep a leather industry fully occupied, and caravans arrive with tons of it for cheap anyway, so your meat industry will be at best a supplement in that regard. As with the butcher's shop, the tanner's shop will queue a "tan raw hide" job automatically; the tanner's skill has no effect on quantity nor quality of the leather produced, and the task is time-sensitive because of rot.
It is quite sensible to have a single dwarf as both the butcher and tanner, as you will never need to begin tanning until you finish butchering. You could also make this same dwarf your leatherworker. However, there is no outstanding reason to do this. It may be advisable (or not) to simply ensure that there are no stockpiles that will accept Fresh Raw Hides and to have the tanner's shops in the immediate area of the butcher's shop - if fresh raw hides can be stored in any refuse stockpile, they will instantly be designated for hauling and cannot be tanned until they have been stored. Ensuring that raw hides will not be stockpiled means that they will be available for tanning fresh off the former owner.
Some animals drop hair when butchered, which can be spun into thread at a farmer's workshop. However, animal hair thread cannot be used to make cloth, which means that the only use of hair thread is for suturing in hospitals. Hair thread can be dyed.
Cartilage and nervous tissue
Cartilage and nervous tissue are both butchering byproducts with no current uses, and should be dumped as garbage once stripped of their former owner. Nervous tissue will rot and may generate miasma.
Ivory is used to make trade goods or decorations at a craftsdwarf's workshop. Besides the obvious elephant tusks and so forth, sufficiently large teeth, e.g. of large felines, can be used for the same purpose.
You don't necessarily have to slaughter your animals to get something useful out of them, as specific creatures can also produce some products while alive.
Tame female egg-laying animals will produce eggs at intervals, which in turn can be used to feed your fortress on a more interim basis than butchering. Egg production is a viable way to keep a fortress fed, and in areas where setting up a farm will be difficult, starting out with some poultry can be essential to survival. Animals that can lay eggs are poultry (easily acquired), reptiles like alligators (only if you're particularly elfish), and some more exotic animals like dragons and giant eagles (only if you're very lucky). Female egg-laying animals will claim a nest box, and lay a clutch of eggs. These can be allowed to hatch into young animals (to replace the ones sent to the butcher), or collected into food stockpiles and cooked into meals at a kitchen.
You can also milk tame female mammals such as horses, cows, and so forth at the farmers workshop with an empty bucket and a dwarf with the milking labor enabled. The resulting milk can be used as a cooking ingredient or turned into high-value edible cheese at the farmers workshop by a dwarf with cheesemaking enabled (it cannot, however, be eaten raw).
Many animals can be milked in Dwarf Fortress that would not normally be, for example pigs.
Wool can be produced by shearing one of three animals: llamas, alpacas, and sheep (also trolls, but only goblins can do so). It can be woven into wool thread and then wool cloth; for a full discussion on the uses of wool, see the textile industry.
Manually managing your meat industry can become quite tedious, especially since the game has a tendency to not provide crucial information (age, gender, etc.). The utility DFHack provides an "autobutcher" command which can automatically (and semi-intelligently) maintain a breeding population and provide a steady stream of butchering returns.
Worker type / Labor
- Ambusher / Hunting
- A crossbow or other weapon
- Bolts, quiver
- Leather armor
- Stats buffing
- Archery practice
- Butcher / Butchery
- Tanner / Tanning
- Leatherworker / Leatherworking
- Bone carver / Bone carving
- Cook / Cooking
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