40d:Food guide

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This article is about an older version of DF.

This guide is aimed at completeness, overview, evaluation, and comparison. It is aimed at new players. Most of the information available on this page is already stated on more specific pages.

There are seven possible ways to get food: farming, trading, fishing, hunting, plant gathering, breeding tame livestock and trapping. Farming is the most stable and plentiful of the methods, usually followed by trading. Farming, trading and plant gathering are your only sources of booze or brewable plants, so you need to do at least one of them because booze is a must-have.


This is the quickest way to resolve a food shortage. But you won't get much, and you'll need to establish another method before you run out of bushes to harvest unless you're on a big, fertile map. You can also farm most plants you gather with a similar amount of work and higher output, so outside a shortage gathering is more of a flavour than a sensible choice. The higher your dwarf's herbalist skill, the more food you get per time spent. Unskilled gatherers will find frustratingly little, but will train up rather fast. Seeds obtained after eating gathered plants allow you to start farming above ground plants that you can't buy seeds for on embark. Gathering is risky in locations with nasty wildlife, or during goblin ambushes. Keep in mind that heavy gathering, like logging, will cause your dwarves to go increasingly long distances until they find shrubs, reducing yield per time.


None. Really.



Activate the plant gathering labor on one or more dwarves, designate an area to be gathered in a similar way to how you designate trees for felling, and you're good to go. Of course bringing a proficient gatherer on embark improves early yield a lot.



You need a food stockpile, but you will have one anyway. Having a kitchen is helpful as a few of the plants you gather may be inedible raw.


Fishing will give a steady food supply, but the return on time spent is low. If you can't provide a safe place like a walled-in pool or underground river (assuming you cleared that one out first), being outside and near carp is a steady risk. You can improve on supplementing your dwarves' diet with their likes, and turtle or lobster shells are important for moods. You will also get some bones if the fish is eaten uncooked.

The catch with fishing though is that the catch (ahaha - horrible pun) is not immediately edible. You need to process it at the fishery first, which increases the time needed to get from rod to plate.


  • Sometimes you're not getting any shells from fishing, just lots of shads and trout and cave fish. Here's a tip: dig out a channel some distance away from a main water source and channel a water source into that. Then designate that for fishing. You should only get turtles from that.
  • For every three dedicated fisherdwarves, one dedicated fish cleaner is needed for the highest efficiency and every fish cleaner needs his/her own fishery.
  • "there is no fish left in X body of water" can be safely ignored. Your dwarves will either use another fishing spot until the fish respawn or idle about until said fish respawn, which is when the season changes.
  • If you don't have a river on your map but only murky pools, they may dry up in summer and never refill, leaving your map with no water at all. So there is a (low and avoidable) risk of fishing being a dead end.
  • You still need a farm, or trade, for booze.


This is almost like fishing, except there's more spectacle (and blood!), the returns are usually higher but the risk is higher as well. With hunting, you will also get stacks of bones, tallow, leather and skulls (fishing just gets you single bones and shells).

Most players, if not all, that do hunting encounter a serious problem: Eventually, animals stop showing up. There is debate whether this is avoidable by low intensity hunting, but either way, unless it is changed in new versions, it reduces hunting to an unsafe and supplementary food source.

If you are on any map where you yourself are afraid of the animals roaming about, hunting is out of the question. If you're on any evil or savage map, hunting is a good way to get rid of dwarves.



  • Ambusher
  • A weapon skill, preferably marksdwarf, at least novice. additionally hammerdwarf, he/she will use that when out of bolts.
  • Armor user to reduce encumbrance
  • Wrestling for dodging aggressive animals



  • A weapon, if possible of highest quality
  • the best armor set you have and the dwarf can use without slowing down
  • A steady supply of bolts if using Marksdwarf
  • quiver, backpack (better not use waterskin, no alcohol happiness) improve efficiency


  • Some people just use soldiers to hunt which has admittedly advantages. Set soldiers to 'harass wild animals' via m-v-a.
  • Hunters sleep outside. They can sometimes be slaughtered by wandering wolf packs while snoozing away.
  • Hunters that have no bolts will chase their prey and club them with their crossbow, which is about as effective as it sounds.
  • Make sure you have a tanner, and butcher before you get a hunting job. If not, it's a total waste and you're better off fishing.
  • You can also make an axe-hunter by putting wood cutting and hunting on the same dwarf - won't be catching the fast creatures, but has a better chance against a predator, and doesn't need ammo.
  • You still need a farm or trade for booze.
  • Lastly, hunters are usually the first to die in a siege or ambush.


Farming will usually be a fort's primary source of food, and will also be the one that produces the highest yield over the longest period of time. Most crops can be grown year-round as they are harvested, with only some requiring secondary processing such as milling or threshing. Farming can take a bit longer to get going and major obstacles can occur (no soil, no water at all), but once established it will run like a clockwork forever.


Few; Cheap

The basis of a farm is seeds. Seeds come in both subterranean and surface (indoors/outdoors) varieties - you can buy either type of seeds from traders, but the embark screen will only have subterranean seeds available and Plant Gathering (designations->Gather plants)) will only yield outside plants (exception: underground river). Any plant that is eaten or brewed produces seeds. To control dwarven behavior a bit more, you may want to control who can harvest plants or collect stray seeds from the orders menu.

A subterranean farm will require a digging implement of some sort, unless you are lucky enough to start on a map with a cave, in which case you will possibly need a bucket.



The only specific farming-related skill is grower (labor:Farming). Plant Gathering (or trade) is needed to acquire above ground plant seeds.



An outdoors farm plot just needs to be laid (build->Farm plot) on any soil.

Indoors plots can be built on any soil floor (including sand) or any sufficiently muddy floor. Muddy stone floors can be produced by using a bucket and the pit/pond activity zone on a channeled tile one z-level above the area where you want the plot to be. The water will spread out on the level below.

To make an underground outdoors plot, the area where the plot will be placed must be or have been exposed to the outdoors (e.g., the ceilings have all been channeled down to that room) and the floor, if stone, must be muddied.

Keeping seed-exclusive food stockpiles near farm plots is good practice, as are keeping indoors and outdoors farm plots close. It is entirely possible to contain all food production and some of the cooking facilities in a small, well-managed area.

It doesn't take a large field to feed a full fortress. In DF, a 6x6 field and two planters will be enough for 200 dwarves.



Farming skills should be devoted to dwarves who will be farmers or planters only. That includes turning off lesser hauling jobs, and giving them no other skill specialization, as there is a chance they will spend more time doing other things than they will planting seeds or harvesting plants from the fields before they wither. Mixing farming skills with cooking skills is viable, but closer attention to task execution and assignment is necessary, thus that the planters don't spend more time in the kitchen or the still than on the field. Multiple planters - three is safe - produce a bigger stock and may even allow some skill rotation, while fewer planters - one - puts the fortress at risk if that dwarf should be killed or incapacitated.


  • Crops have a time to bear period after their planting. Keep also in mind that crops that take longer to grow mean that your community will dine much later. Plump helmets are quick growing crops.
  • Potash can be used to fertilize farm plots, producing larger stacks of plants when harvested. Potash is made by burning wood into ash and turning ash into potash at an ashery. The utility of this gain is questionable, even in dire circumstances.
  • Developed skill in planting produces better harvest bundles (stacks of food from one plant harvested). Larger bundles of food means more alcohol brewed into a single barrel, larger stacks of Dwarven syrup and quarry bush leaves for cooking, and more dye or flour/sugar per bag.
  • If you find that your seeds stock is dropping, this may be either a case of focusing too much on secondary culinary skills that destroy seeds in the process (e.g., cooking) or the inhabitants of your fortress may be consuming other kinds of food and all of your seed-bearing plants are not getting eaten or brewed thus that the seeds get recovered. As mentioned, it is ill-advised to let your kitchen cook seeds directly.
  • If you need more food quick, plant quick crops that don't need additional skills and infrastructure to bring to bear. So avoid quarry bush and get a plump helmet farm operational.
  • It's not necessary to use an aqueduct or similar to muddy an underground area. A bucket brigade and a pond zone on a channeled tile that opens to the level below where you want your plot to be creates tillable land in no time.


Livestock is a safe and constant source of meat and bones (read: bolts) for a fortress that has trouble with caravans and hunting.

However, using livestock as a sole food source is a non-viable way to survive. No matter what you do, animals don't reproduce fast enough to feed everyone in the first years, if ever. If you really want to try this, and keep the framerate up, learn to micromanage caging so that baby animals are kept in cages.

You need no more than one male of each species, and female animals should be slaughtered after about 8 years, so they wont die of old age.

If you bring pairs of animals right from the start, happen to be on a map where you can catch (lots) more with cage traps and buy all animals traders bring, you will get a substantial return after, say, 3 years. But the cost in starting points, time, work and micromanagement make this really uneconomic. Try it as an experiment perhaps? For the first years you will need a different food source anyway, so why not stick with that? You could however limit the number of dwarves until everything's set up. Advantages of animals are that they are a meat reserve that will not rot and supply plenty useful byproducts such as bones, fat, leather, skulls and act as intruder detection.

Tame female animals that are left to roam can apparently become impregnated by wild male animals of the same type. The new animals produced will be tame.



You need a butcher and tanner, but any unskilled dwarf can do that fine and it's not very time-consuming.


  • Some animals are reproducing faster and more consistently than others. Cows, horses, and cats work and are easy to acquire. Other than that you will have to try out. But really, you will take what you can get.
  • Mules are sterile.
  • You still need a farm or trade for booze.


While targeting the same source as hunting (wild animals) and eventually equaling breeding, it uses a different technique (cage trap), needs less resources (bolts versus mechanisms and cages that get recycled) and reduces risk. Caught animals need to be tamed and are then better used for breeding than instant slaughtering.

In dire circumstances you can also trap vermin which your dwarves can snack on. It's usually a sign your fortress is doomed and makes most dwarves unhappy. Catching vermin with bait is useless as a food source, since the bait is always worth more than the catch.


  • Make a bunch of animal traps, make sure someone has trapping enabled, then set up a Kennel with a repeating "Capture Live Land animal" task. The trapper should pick up a trap and run around chasing vermin, sticking them in the trap. Just make sure there's an animal stockpile to put them on.
  • Even if there's plenty of normal food available, dwarves will occasionally come by and eat the vermin raw, live, and wriggling!


Trading for food gives you less control than farming. As it relies on trade caravans delivering your fortress food, you have to check more carefully the amount of food your dwarves eat, possibly limiting immigration till you have built a stock or can better evaluate how much food the caravans bring. The amount of food that a caravan delivers is impossible to strictly control, but can be influenced with liaisons. At the same time, you need to maintain good relationships with the other civilizations. Be prepared for the occasional caravan to be omitted due to sieges.



The only physical requirement to initiate trading with some other civilization is a trade depot.

More work is needed for actually accumulating trade goods like mugs to sell. This is an expansive situation that ties into whatever kind of economy you establish - stone being the easiest. For Wood (Armok forbid), glass, metal, cloth, leather, etc.. you need a chain of workshops, a supply of production materials, and the skills needed to produce the goods. Good news is that food is typically rather cheap, even if specifically requested.

To keep the amount of barrels needed in check, create stockpiles that accept no barrels for traded meat and fish.


None, then normal

None, you say!? Believe it or not, this is important - there is an actual GAIN from not having any kind of food production except through trade. Unless you are doing the hermit or outcast challenges, most of the skills needed to perform trading for food will already exist as a requirement for a normal fortress. Very rarely will you not build a trade depot. Very rarely will you not have a trade representative. You will never not produce something that can be sold to merchants. In short, all the basic skill requirements and all secondary skill requirements will already be built into a normal fortress (hopefully). You free up one or more dwarves who would have otherwise spent their time making food and put them to work with more useful tasks such as building furniture or trinkets.


None, then normal

Same as with skills and materials, most of the things necessary for trading for food are already built into a typical fortress. Ignoring the workshops that will produce what you sell, as well as what your fortress uses to live, you need a depot and a food stockpile. Done.


Low, then variable

The major benefit of purchasing food rather than growing it is that you integrate the supply of food as an end-product of the rest of a fortress's activity. Forgo the plow and hoe for more stone crafts or more furniture, and all that.

Trading for food can easily fill your piles with edible delights each time your fortress gets visited by merchants, but at the cost of choice on more than one occasion. Your human and dwarven liaison will allow you to set a priority for the food the merchants haul with them next year. Goblins and elves don't seem to trade much food, and the amount of food the humans bring can be sometimes great, sometimes minor. Even setting the priority for food for the dwarves, there is a chance they'll just bring some expensive food, not a lot of cheap food (actually, this is a fallacy: the food itself is not expensive, usually, but its barrel or bag can be of absurd quality). There is also the part where you have to keep good relations with the other races, including your own; this another part of "normal fortress behavior." Trading for food is a fubar'd idea if everyone hates you. Since sieges keep merchant caravans away in the later-game periods, a fortress would do well to build an early, healthy surplus too.


  • A stack of really well prepared food can be incredibly expensive to merchants and can be produced from food bought at cheap prices from merchants.
  • Trading for food is open to all the normal problems and bugs that are associated with trading, including slow unpacking, the random really slow wagon problem, selling wood to the elves, and so forth.
  • Although fortresses may only rarely find themselves low on food stocks, an extra-cautious eye should always be kept on the supply and how fast it is being consumed, such as in quickly growing fortresses and those with large populations. Especially as far as alcohol stock is concerned, since dwarves burn through alcohol faster than they do through food.
  • Solid food - plant or meat - is not purchased in barrels; exposure to rot and wither, make sure it is hauled to a stockpile in time.

Related: Cooking[edit]

Cooking increases your food supply in that it makes inedible food edible (tallow, flour, milk, lots more) and makes food that can rot unrottable (meat, fish). Cooking is an important way to increase your food quality. All you need is one dedicated cook and a kitchen as well as cookable food. Basically, it turns a few small stacks of food into one bigger stack of food with quality that gives a happiness bonus depending on the cook's skill. You can cook seeds too.

Remember that cooking, other than brewing or eating raw plants, destroys the seeds, so you might want to be careful about that.


  • To train chefs, have them only make easy meals in the beginning because it's the fastest to prepare.
  • Make sure there's enough storage space because if masterpiece meals rot... you're in trouble.
  • Prepared food sells for obscenely high prices. Makes for a brilliant trade good in a pinch, even to the elves (as long as they aren't in wooden barrels).