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Pastures are activity zones that the player creates to hold tame animals, especially grazing animals. Herbivorous animals require grass, cave moss, or floor fungus to graze upon, and larger herbivores need a greater amount of these to feed themselves. Pandas and their relatives require bamboo rather than other types of grass. Using pastures allows herbivorous animals to be restricted to areas where they will have plenty to eat.
A pasture is defined using- to draw a rectangle, and then animals are selected to graze. Having pressed to define a zone, highlight the pasture and press ( + ), select the animal(s) you wish to pasture using / , and press . Animals currently assigned to this pasture will have a green plus symbol to the left of them. Animals assigned to some pasture, the previously defined one or otherwise, will have a green triple-line symbol to the right of them. If the brackets surrounding this triple-line are white, the animal is currently pastured; if they're grey, the animal has not yet been brought to pasture, or still needs to be moved to a different pasture. If the brackets contain the 'cage' symbol (‼), it means that animal is currently caged. If that animal is selected for this pasture, they will be automatically uncaged and brought to the pasture by a dwarf (this is actually a good way to get animals you bought from a merchant uncaged quickly, without having to actually build the cage somewhere first). Note that an animal in a stockpiled cage within the defined pen/pasture area (i.e. stockpile overlaps pen/pasture zone) is considered to be within the pasture already and will not be released.
Once all animals are selected, finish by pressingand idle animal haulers will lead the animals to pasture.
Any animal may be assigned to a pasture, though wild and hostile animals won't reliably stay in one. You can also create pastures inside (on rock) and use them to confine animals that do not need to eat (like pigs) in certain areas. If there is fungus or moss on your indoor floors (e.g. on soil after breaching the caverns), the animals will consume that in place of grass.
Grass on your pastures will replenish at different speeds, depending on biome; if, on embark, the biome read "Thick" on "Other Vegetation", it will regrow fast, if it read "Scarce", it may not regenerate at all. Care should be taken to ensure that grass is not consumed more quickly than it can replenish, lest your livestock begin starving - if more than half of the pasture is devoid of grass, it's probably overloaded. Of special note is the fact that mountain biomes start covered with grass (and numerous boulders), but said grass will never regrow once eaten, so when placing pastures, ensure that there are shrubs and saplings nearby, as their presence ensures that the environment is hospitable to plant (re)growth.
Baby animals born to pastured mothers will automatically be assigned to their mother's pasture, but those hatched from eggs will not.
If you need to get animals inside quickly when a siege or ambush hits, a quick way to do this is to simply make the pasture inactive (before the animals see the invaders, if possible.) Animals without a pasture tend to gravitate to a meeting area, so most of them will head to your dining hall or other rest area. An inactive pasture retains its occupant list, so all you have to do is make it active again and your dwarves will return them to their correct areas.
When a pasture is overcrowded, animals may become enraged and start fights. This behavior is similar to a dwarf throwing a tantrum, and can be prevented by enlarging your pasture or keeping fewer animals in it.
Another possibility is to split a large pasture which holds many animals into several smaller pastures, with the pasture size reflecting the amount of grazing the animal needs to survive. Animals will only fight each other if their pasture is sharing the same tiles as the creature they are fighting with.
 Other Applications
A pasture can serve as a quick limited replacement for a rope or restraint, as it allows you to "tie" multiple animals to the same spot and even allows you to place pets and animals assigned to dwarves. It does not, however, actually tie animals; see below.
Lots of 1x1 pastures each with a chicken and a nest box is a way to make a battery farm.
This can be used to (not very safely) get rid of immigrant pets or cat infestations by pasturing them outside the fortress to serve as an early warning system and meatshield or by pasturing them inside a room that then gets accidentally filled with
magma fun. This procedure will cause unhappy thoughts in owners and spam "assign to pasture" jobs when you want them least: When the animals are running away from invaders or even a meager thief, most of them escaping death.
While a pasture is a quick way of placing animals exactly in one defined area, it does not restrict the movement of an animal--if they are threatened by an enemy, the animal will flee as normal, and will trigger a task to re-pasture the animal once it leaves the border of the pasture. This is important as the announcement of an ambush may trigger a flood of civilians rushing to the pasture and into the face of the enemy. Since the labor is governed by the Animal Hauling skill, it is important to make sure you select only the most hardy (replaceable) dwarves for this job.
- During a civilian alert, only tiles within the defined burrow are eligible for grazing. Animals confined to pastures outside the civilian alert burrow will starve to death while standing on dense grass.Bug:6240
- Baby animals hatched from eggs are not automatically assigned to the mother's pasture.Bug:5990