For more than 10 years now, we’ve told tales of our most intriguing, mischievous and entertaining ewe, Sultana. This tale, I’m sorry to say, will almost certainly be the last.
Born in 2004, the second year of lambing on the farm, Sultana was also the second lamb we bottle fed. Unlike Orhan, the wether who preceded her on the bottle but whose mother tolerated his presence and eventually let him sneak an occasional drink while nursing his favored twin brother, Sultana was entirely our child.
Peter first found Sultana when he heard plaintive bleats coming from the middle of the pasture late one winter afternoon. He went out to investigate and found a shivering lump of wet black wool, still partially wrapped in the placenta, just hours after her birth. Her mother had apparently abandoned her (and would have none of her). Even though he brought her to the flock and placed her on the ground in front of them, no ewe stepped forward to claim her. She thus became ours by default and we christened her “Sultana”. She spent her first cold winter weeks in our mud room, where she was bottle fed five times daily. She was often sickly with scours, and therefore also required constant doses of yoghurt to stabilize her digestive system. There were times when it looked as if she would not make it. As she grew and became stronger, she graduated to the kitchen, following us wherever we went. We spread newspapers about to control the mess. We petted and doted.
Once she got big enough, she trotted along as we did daily chores. She began seeing the flock on a regular basis but showed no interest in staying with them, always trotting back to the house with us. Our first efforts to unite Sultana with the flock were harder than sending a child off to the first day of school. We would lead her up to the barn, distract her with grain when we fed the sheep, and quickly steal away, fastening the gate behind us. Sultana would bleat insistently alone at the fence for hours, and a couple of times managed somehow to find a way of getting back to the house. Thus she established a lifelong skill and habit of sneaking to places she wasn’t supposed to be in order to enjoy pleasures she wasn’t supposed to enjoy.
After we evicted her from the house entirely and made her live day and night with the flock, she would still, whenever we appeared, come over to us for petting and a little communing – she would, dog-like, sniff our behinds and nibble on our pants. It was as if she could not decide whether she belonged in the sheep world or the human world. And while she ultimately followed the movements of the flock across the fields, it was always at a bit of a remove. She was a classic loner. Walking out among the flock (wherever it was gathered), one would very often sense the aura of another presence in the vicinity. It was inevitably her, somewhere to the rear, quietly observing, perhaps still trying to figure out just where she fit in.
As a loner, she could be devious. Twice a day in winter, when we arrive at the barn we “ask” our sheep to leave. They do so readily. They know the drill, and know that if they leave they will be allowed back 10 or 15 minutes later to eat the small grain treat we have carefully distributed to feed bowls spaced out around the barn. Yet closing the door after letting the flock out I cannot tell you how many times we have found Sultana, whose wool is conveniently a dark gray, quietly ensconced in a dark corner, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on more than her share of grain treat unimpeded by any competition.
And despite her status as a loner, Sultana was also a bit of an instigator. She was the sort of mischief maker my parents would have called a “vahnce” in Yiddish. Peter often jokingly referred to her as the “bad seed.” Was the grain can broken into and eaten almost halfway down? Most often that was Sultana’s work. One summer we decided to keep her on the front lawn with that year’s oldest ewelings to serve as a mother figure who would, by example, link them to the human world. Who was it who repeatedly found the break in the fence and led the lambs back up toward the barn? Sultana, of course.
We always forgave her, taking a certain “girls will be girls” approach. Forgiveness came easy to a ewe who gave birth year after year to healthy lambs that resembled her in important ways — Ayse, who learned from her mother the sweetness of attaching to humans; Sara, who inherited her mother’s wild willfulness; and so on.
Despite her strong mothering record, Sultana’s health was never particularly strong. Periodically she was afflicted with scours. We suspect it was lack of colostrum at birth that caused her to have chronic digestive problems and to be perpetually underweight. Her fleece was often matted and of poor quality. She was susceptible to worms and thus to listlessness. Perhaps she had been abandoned because her mother sensed she was not a healthy specimen.
Last year, Sultana nearly died trying to give birth to twins, both of which emerged still-born. It took months to nurse her back to health. Our vet, Elaine, instructed us that under no circumstances should she be bred again. We sequestered her from the ram as best we could, but, given it was Sultana, who knows?
Nonetheless, after a period last fall in which she put on good weight and seemed as vigorous as ever, a week or two ago Sultana’s health began to decline. She lost her enthusiasm for grain, concentrating on hay instead, if she even bothered coming into the barn at feeding time. We were concerned, but had seen her go through many such periods before only to bounce back.
And then, suddenly, this last Saturday morning, as I took over the farm chores for the weekend and called the girls in for their grain treat, I became oddly aware of a void. It’s hard to sense the absence of one member of a large crowd of 65, but with Sultana and a few other favorites we’ve always had a sort of passing nod of greeting once the chaos of the feeding frenzy has died down. Once becoming aware, I walked among the flock looking for that small, pointy eared gray loner, but she was nowhere to be found.
Sunday, before the last big storm, Peter and I did a thorough walk about around the field, expecting that perhaps we would find her collapsed body. We found no evidence of her or any remains.
Then Kyle remembered that several days before a woman in a jeep had stopped, because she had corralled one of our younger sheep out on the road. It had escaped where someone had left a partial opening at the gate. When they got it back to the gate, instead of rejoining the flock as it instinctively should have, it got spooked and ran out again, down the road and into the woods of a neighboring property. This is highly uncharacteristic behavior, to go off alone that way, and though Kyle and Laura, one of our new helpers, managed to corral her and bring her back, Kyle surmises she was not really alone, that perhaps she had been following our one true loner, Sultana, who had decided to go off and die.
I am left with the distinct sensation that there is a sort of negative space on our farm, a discernible and fully felt absence. We may never find out the how and why of Sultana’s disappearance. At least not until the snow melts. But we are pretty sure that Sultana in her death was, as she always was in life, marching to her own drum.
And now, to business.
PICKING UP LAMB ORDERS: Thank you all you lamb lovers for having gotten your cut sheets into Hilltown so promptly. The weather played havoc with our plans to retrieve the lamb this week, but we should certainly have it available this coming week. For those who would still like whole or half lambs, we may, if there’s sufficient interest to justify the trip, send another batch of lambs up in the spring. A whole or half lamb cut to your specifications, $7/lb. hanging weight
GOOSE FOR CASSOULET: Those of you who missed the chance to return to the Dickensian ideal of Christmas by roasting a goose for the occasion still have a chance to enjoy our lovely Toulouse geese, which went to market on Dec. 16, and are still freshly frozen. Roast them or make confit for cassoulet. Most range between 7 and 8 lbs. $10/lb.
AND OTHER BIRDS BECKON: We have lovely Freedom Ranger chickens, most between 4 and 6 lbs., with the more complex flavor that results from the slower growth and enjoyment of foraging of this French-developed meat chicken. $6/lb. We have French Guinea fowl as well, This year’s fowl are meaty and delectable, most between 3 and 4 lbs. Also Muscovy ducks, $7/lb, some quite tiny in the 2 to 3 lb. range and others around 5 lbs. All these birds were harvested in October and November. Birds from past seasons are also in the freezer for$2 less per pound. Make your New Year’s Eve dinner a festive occasion with a Turkana Farms holiday bird.
EGGS ARE BACK: You may recall our plague of predators, chiefly a large fisher and some weasels, who decimated our egg laying flock last winter and spring. The chicks we bought in June to replenish the flock are now newly matured laying hens, and as always when they first start they are going great guns. We have nearly spring level production in winter. No restrictions on quantity, order away. $4/dozen
PORK: Did reading the Cochon menu in Peter’s recent bulletin get your mouth watering? Our 20 lb. pork packs are available at $200 with a selection of chops, roasts, ribs, hocks, sausage and smoked bacon. Pork chops sold separately at $10/lb.
PUMPKINS: Our Long Island Cheese pumpkins are still available, great for pies, candied pumpkin, custard and other holiday pumpkin treats. $.50/lb.
SUMMER BEEF: Our newest grass fed beef is on hand. Order a sample pack this weekend for Monday pickup (20 lbs., $180). Our British White beef is 100% grass fed, no grains, no antibiotics, no growth enhancers. We still have a good enough selection for a couple more sample packs, which will use up most of our steaks, but otherwise you can buy cuts as follows:
Ground beef, $7.50 for a 1.5 lb. tube, and now some 1 lb. tubes at $5. (All from one cow..ours!)
Stir fry or stew beef, $5/lb, Chuck roast, $5/lb
Top or bottom round roast, $8/lb
Sirloin tip roast, $12/lb
OTHER STUFF: Peacock feathers: $1 each, $10 a dozen
FARM PICKUPS: let us know when you’d like your order and it will be on the side screened porch in a bag for you; you can leave your check or cash in the pineapple. Regular pickup times Saturday and Sunday are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement.
SPECIAL TURKANA ODYSSEY NOTE: TRIP IS IN FORMATION. Peter’s small group tours to Turkey, including a week long Blue Cruise on a small wooden yacht on the Mediterranean’s Lycian Coast, are a once in a lifetime experience (except for those of us who are lucky enough to repeat them year after year). His website is http://www.tribal-kilims.com in the section Organized Tours. Trips can be customized, but for first timers wanting to sample the best of what Turkey has to offer the ideal choice is An Insider’s View of Turkey in four Acts. Act I Ephesus Region, Act II the Lycian Mediterranean coast by yacht, Act III Cappadocia, and Act IV, Istanbul. Trips are in formation for 2015. If you’d like more information, call Peter at 518-537-3815. Truly memorable trips.