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In Agricola, the Fireplace and Cooking Hearth both allow you to convert animals to food "at any time." Can you use this ability to cook animals if you don't have room in your pastures?

In particular, if you have zero pastures and grab four sheep, can you cook three of them and keep the fourth as a pet (or cook all four), or do you only get to keep/cook one of them, while the other three presumably wander off and get eaten by wolves as you dither over which one to eat first?

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Wow, hard to believe we haven't had this question before! Most groups I've seen have played this wrong, at least for a couple games. –  Pat Ludwig Nov 14 '12 at 1:32
    
+1 for the question title –  Johno Nov 14 '12 at 11:48
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up vote 15 down vote accepted

Yes, you can cook them directly. From the rulebook, p.9:

1 Sheep (Stage 1): Place 1 Sheep on this space in the Replenish phase (Phase 2) of each round. A player who selects this action takes all the Sheep from the Action space and must either put them into his farmyard or use an Improvement to turn them into food. Sheep that cannot be pastured or turned into Food are returned to the general supply.

The same applies to the other animal spaces.

This is an important tactical option. The threat of having all the sheep grabbed and devoured often forces a player with pastures to pick the sheep up sooner than they might like.

So in your example, yes you may cook three and keep one, or cook all four immediately, at your discretion.

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Change eat to cook and this post makes more sense. You don't need to eat them immediately, you can keep the cooked food around as long as you would like. –  Chris Dodd Nov 14 '12 at 1:14
    
+1 since I came here thinking I knew the rules and discovering something new about the game. We were playing this incorrectly from the beginning. Thanks for the clarification! –  Kyle Sykes Nov 14 '12 at 1:18
    
@Chris Dodd - Great point. Edited. –  ire_and_curses Nov 14 '12 at 1:33
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@Kyle Sykes - Yes, it's not exactly made obvious, squirreled away as it is at the back of the rulebook. Which is a shame, since it's actually a very important rule. –  ire_and_curses Nov 14 '12 at 1:36
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Note that this does not apply during the breeding phase of harvest. If you don't have room for the new animal, you don't get it. You cannot just cook it immediately. –  David Fullerton Nov 15 '12 at 18:21
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