What did you eat today? How did you get around town? What did you wear? Did you put milk in your coffee? Eat some eggs? Maybe you had some delicious tacos. Where did you get your food? Maybe some teenager handed to you through a drive-thru window. Maybe a loving spouse cooked it for you. Maybe you made it yourself. Did you put gas in the car? Swipe the old Metrocard? Is your shirt made of cotton? Wool? Synthetics? Where did the ingredients for your food come from? Probably the fridge. You probably didn’t feel the butt feathers of a chicken when you reached for your eggs or sharpen your knife before you cut the throat of a cow. You didn’t ride a horse through the drive thru. You didn’t strap your briefcase to a donkey and head to work.
For a vast majority of human existence, animals have been our partners in crime and our sources of full tummies. If you wanted food you had to grow it. Or kill it. Or have someone else do it for you. Even if you weren’t the one picking or stabbing, you saw where your food came from. Even cities were full of animals, crapping and eating and making their noises. Doves, rabbits and other small game were brought into the market to be killed fresh for the buyer, bigger animals taken to the butcher. Fish, frogs and turtles would be brought in sometimes in buckets.
The cow says moo, the chicken says cluck, the pig says oink. But what kind of farm animals populate your farms? And what breeds?
Breeds for cows, chickens, goats, horses and other animals number in the hundreds with each breed having adaptations that make them better suited to the environment, more or less susceptible to disease or better or worse producers of meat, milk and/or fiber. When people in North America think ‘cow’ we tend to think of the black and white dairy cow, famously plastered on many milk carton. But some have thick, long hair to protect against cold weather, others have large humps or longer horns. I once saw a chicken with an afro of feathers! My cousin has silkies in her backyard and they look like fluffy clouds with beaks. Goats come with horns with all kinds of twists and turns, ranging again from the short haired goat to the more sheep like looking fiber goats.
A single animal could provide a wealth of resources for a family. Chickens, ducks and geese provide eggs, feathers and fertilizer for gardens, as well as pest control. Goats can provide nutritious milk that is easier on the stomach, fiber and can eat many things, not needing as much open space as large herbivores. Rabbits can provide fur or even fiber that can be spun, as well as pellets for the garden and a hell of a lot more bunnies. Llamas and alpacas are fiber producing, can bear loads and have special feet that don’t tear up already stony soil, as well as being good watch animals. Guinea pigs are sources of meat that are easy to take care of. Reindeer can carry packs as well as provide milk and antlers for decorations. And a beehive would provide wax for candles and medicine, honey for the pantry and medicine as well as pollination for the fields.
In addition to the animals we want to cram in our mouths, consider the plants. Crop rotation is a must if you don’t want your soil to be leeched of nutrients and people throughout history were able to figure out what combinations of foods led to better health and what was able to keep during the winter. Wheat is the grain we think of but rice, corn, millet, barley, quinoa and amaranth are all grains eaten the world over. Purple rice is seen in some SE Asian cuisines, quinoa and amaranth were grown in South America. Not to mention beans, a protein miracle when your animals are more valuable alive than dead.
Food is tied to culture. As the culture changes, the foods change. Do all the cultures raise the same animals? What animals are taboo, too holy or unclean to be used for food? What is eaten on feast days? What is the regional dish? What specific makes the meal? Many cultures have some version of ‘It’s not a meal if there isn’t any ________.’ And how are these meals affected when other cultures come into play and introduce their culinary customs?
And of course, there are consequences when invasive species are introduced. Disease, pests, a turn of bad weather and competition can devastate crops and animals. In addition, animals or plants brought in to curb one threat can go horribly wrong. Even something as simple as bringing a few cats as pets can severely affect the local small mammal and bird population, which is what has happened in the South Pacific. An animal that is under control could get loose during a natural disaster or perhaps something a little less mundane? As the ecosystem changes and domestic animals and wild ones switch places, there are consequences that can be felt throughout the land and sometimes sooner than people would think.
-What kind of plants and animals make up a farm? Do multicolored fronds of amaranth sway in the breeze? Do villagers bend over wet rice paddies? Do wooly goats run across the main road?
-Consider what makes up the daily meal of the culture and how it arrived from farm to plate. What is the significance of the foods people eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
-People connect over food. What is the eating style in the local taverns? Is it a communal style where people pay to sit and eat whatever is passed down? Or do people order individual plates, catered to their tastes? Will the barkeep dress and cook whatever someone brings in?
-What does an elf eat for breakfast? How do halflings take their tea? What’s the best way to eat a rabbit for humans?
-Large farms aren’t the only way to grow ones food. Caves can be used to grow mushrooms. Man-made ponds are stocked with fish. Flat roofs can keep herbs and chickens away from ground level predators. How do people make the most of the land?
-What influence do other cultures have on crop raising and animal husbandry? Some traditions only plant certain things at certain phases of the moon. Some ranchers use fences to train their animals while others use behavioural training. Don’t forget, horses aren’t the only animals humans can ride. Donkeys, yaks, reindeer and even ostriches can be saddled and used to monitor herds and get from place to place.
-What does border customs look like? What is allowed across country lines? County? City?
-What ‘atypical’ animals are domesticated? Rabbits? Tortoises? Guinea pigs? Frogs?
-An animal breeder wishes to breed their domestic animal with a wild one in the hopes to rear/invent a new species. The PCs are sent to try and find and capture this animal and must bring it back alive. They must also ensure the sex of the animal.
-A nomadic culture that does not believe in agriculture makes its way into the territories and starts ‘foraging’ on the farms of the citizens. The PCs must patrol and protect the village.
-An invasive species has been found by local authorities. Set to bloom/spawn on the new moon, the PCs must try to find and destroy as many of the plants/animals as they can by that time.
-When an invasive species is found, local authorities start to wonder how it came to arrive, suspecting an enemy country has planted the animal or plant over the border in hopes of destroying their agriculture. What do the PCs find when they investigate?
-A mysterious plant starts sprouting at the base of the statue of the deity of agriculture.
-When the local government wants to grow one kind of plant in order to turn a profit, the locals become disgruntled and the sylvan population warns against it. When the seeds mysteriously disappear, the PCs must find the seeds and find the guilty party.
-What is the perfect breakfast? The fanciest meal they’ve ever eaten? A ‘feast day’ food?
-Did the PC grow up on a farm or in the city? Did they dispatch the animals themselves or have servants to do it?
-What symbolism do domestic animals and plants hold? Roosters are noted for their arrogance, donkeys and mules for their stubbornness, cats and rabbits for their fertility. Do they have any lucky charms trying to emulate one of these?
-Does the PC respect farmers? Ranchers?
-Does your PC have any diet restrictions based on religion or philosophical beliefs? Superstitions surrounding animals?
As someone who grew up in a city, farms and agriculture has always seemed a bit like magic to me. When was the last time you went to a farm and what did you notice? And we know from movies that an orchard, field or even a barn would make an interesting place to lay down the old battle map? What say you?