Alan Zuschlag wasn’t always a shepherd. Alan grew up a typical suburban kid and his father was the local veterinarian. Growing up, Alan didn’t think to follow in his father’s footsteps in animal care. But, when this self described “frustrated yuppie” decided to leave the Washington DC rat-race and look for greener pastures, his father’s early influence left Alan with an appreciation for animals and ideals of natural farming.
Touchstone Farm of Rappahannock County, Virginia, was started as a part-time project with 25 acres and a decision to raise low impact, grazing animals. Alan told Humane Farm Animal Care, “I was highly methodical at the beginning.” Alan began studying the subject of shepherding carefully, reading all the material he could find and taking cues from another local shepherd. By the time he attended the annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Alan had narrowed his search. He was looking specifically for a strong animal that would be suited to his part-time shepherding.
The Clun Forest breed, from Shropshire in Wales, fit the bill perfectly. “They have extremely high protein in their milk and meat,” says Alan. The Clun Forest is also a “hardy, low-input sheep,” which was essential to a farm that is a one-man operation. “Most lamb you eat in America is either Aussie lamb or from New Zealand,” says Alan. “It’s frozen and shipped here. You just don’t know anything about it.” Alan’s pursuit of the rich flavor of pasture raised lamb has kept him from feedlots and all packages are processed at Touchstone.
Since 1996 Alan’s flock has been nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Touchstone Farm sheep enjoy lush green pastures of orchard grass, rye grass, clover, native herbs and forbs, and they drink water piped directly from Touchstone Springs. Touchstone Farm does not use any artificial or processed foods, antibiotics or growth supplements.
Originally a “weekend venture” it wasn’t long before Alan said he “was bitten hard by the farm bug.” At first, Alan sold lamb to friends and relied on word of mouth to spread his business. His sales have increased since his website began handling orders. Touchstone Farm offers custom cut lamb in the Virginia and Washington DC metropolitan area. Spring lamb is available from March through May and fall freezer lamb is available from September through October. Half and whole lamb packages are processed to customer specifications and you can order at http://www.touchstonefarm.org/tf/default.htm
Alan has grown the original 25 acres of Touchstone Farms to 200 acres of pastures, hayfields and forest. Struck by the beauty of the area and bitten hard by the farm-bug, Alan now usually telecommutes to his Washington, DC job.
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