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CHILTON - Sheep have been part of the fabric of Darren Sattler's family for as long as he can remember. While family members showed market lambs at the local county fair and the Wisconsin State Fair as part of FFA or 4-H projects, Sattler was hoping to find a way to make the venture profitable.

"My folks sold half and whole lamb carcasses but sold the sheep when I moved off the farm in 1981. When my wife and I moved back to the Chilton area in 1988 and decided to take over the farm, we began getting calls from people asking for sheep and lambs," Sattler said.

To help spread the word about their meat products, Sattler followed the advice of a small business consultant in 2007 and opened his barn door to the public via an Open Barn event.

"Little newborn lambs would be a great way to draw children and their families to the farm, and once there we could let them pet the lambs, answer questions and invite them inside the house to try different dishes featuring lamb," Sattler said.

The springtime event has grown so much over the years—650 people attended last year—that Sattler invited a chef from Fox Valley Technical College to help prepare lamb dishes as well as a nearby cottage business Bleating Heart Haven Fiber Arts, that also depends on sheep for its livelihood.

Although the Sattler family hawked it's meat products at farmers markets in Green Bay, Neenah and Sheboygan, social media and word of mouth has helped boost business.

"There's not a big market around here for lamb but people have been finding me online," he said.

Since his wife died in 2014, Sattler scaled back his operation and breeds just 25 ewes a year and buys additional lambs from neighboring farms who also raise the Hampshire/Suffolk cross.

"I try to spread lambing out over a 3-4 period. I have siblings who live in town, so if I'm at work, they can stop in and check on things," said Sattler who fits in a full-time job between his shepherding duties. His children,Tjark and Abby and their spouses also help out during special events on the farm and to help with making hay or separating lambs.

RELATED: Meet your Local Farmer event is back for second year

Of the 80-90 lambs that Sattler finishes out each year, he estimates that 45-50 animals are sold as half or whole carcasses, with the remainder being sold as specialty cuts including racks of ribs, chops and legs that are processed at state inspected meat plant in Brillion. Sattler also is licensed to sell retail cuts off of the farm.

During his Open Barn event, Sattler tries to educate visitors about the versatility of lamb in a variety of dishes beyond the traditional leg of lamb. This year he introduced visitors to a leg steaks served in a Mongolian stir fry, a spicy Moroccan dish and even served atop pizza.

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"People who grew up on farms probably remembers eating a tough, old sheep. But they're getting past that. We slaughter lambs between 8-9 months old so the meat is very tender and is a nice piece of meat that can be used in a lot of different ways," he said. "When people taste it, they often tell me that they can't believe they haven't been eating this all along."

The family-run operation is one of six stops on the second annual Meet Your Local Farmer: A Farm-to-Table Tour set for this Saturday, April 28.

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