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Old Mountain Farm has got your goat

By Virginia L. Woodwell

YORK - York has many visitors, but probably none who comes on a mission as unique as that of Geoff and Nancy Masterman. Nor do they find, often, spots in York as rural and still agrarian as that visited last Friday by the Mastermans.

The Masterman's mission was the collection of semen from prize-winning buck goats, and the place they visited was Old Mountain Farm, tucked into the woods up on the shoulder of Mount Agamenticus, where Wyl Smith and Cheryle Moore-Smith raise show-quality dairy goats of the breed known as Nigerian dwarfs.

Cheryle is known to many in York as a former long-term photographer for The York Weekly. Less well known is the fact that she and Wyl, whos a skilled finish carpenter, have been quietly, carefully and doggedly working to build up a herd of Nigerian dwarves of national stature.

The Masterman's visit was one indication that they've arrived at that point, and the Masterman's story, like the Moore-Smiths' to a lesser degree, is the tale of an enterprising couple who've found a novel way to make a living through agriculture.

From September through January, the Mastermans travel all over the United States in the region east of the Rockies, collecting and disseminating goat semen.

Calling their business "Superior Semen Works," and with a motto that reads "Our Buck Semen Is Strong Enough to Crack an Egg," they collect from goats of all breeds (there are, for example, Alpines, Saanens, Toggenburgs, Oberhaslis, and La Manchas, among dairy varieties, and Boers among goats bred for meat) and then process and freeze the semen for storage indefinitely

The Mastermans are thus making a very wide variety of semen available, in a very convenient and accessible form - far more convenient than the buck himself - to any goat breeder interested in improving his or her herd.


Nancy & Geoff Masterman of "Superior Semen Works" holding a couple of Old Mountain Farm doe kids.
The frozen semen also makes it possible for any given buck to propagate, and so perpetuate some valued characteristics, well beyond his own lifetime.

At Old Mountain Farm on Friday, the Mastermans collected from six of the Moore-Smiths’ seven bucks. For collection, a "teaser" doe is enlisted, as well as a conical collection device. The process continues with testing of the semen for viability, the injection of an additive, labeling and the long, slow freezing process. (Temperatures were dropped in stages with the use of liquid nitrogen, to -320 degrees F from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Information about the buck’s lineage and distinctive features, together with photos, then goes into a catalog the Mastermans maintain, both in print and at a Web site on the Internet, at www.superiorsemenworks.com, thus vastly expanding the market for the breed characteristics the Moore-Smiths have developed.

Henceforth, any goat breeder anywhere in the United States interested in purchasing Old Mountain Farm semen now has only to contact the Mastermans, who will either ship it or personally deliver it if the recipient is somewhere along their fall travel route. The Mastermans also assist and instruct in artificial insemination, and provide related supplies, including liquid nitrogen tanks.

Conversely, the Moore-Smiths can also purchase semen, via the Mastermans from other Nigerian dwarf breeders to broaden the genetic base of their herd.

Geoff and Nancy Masterman, whose home base is Milton, N.H., began this business two summers ago, in 2001. In January 2002, Geoff started making calls to line up bucks and interest farther afield, and in the fall of last year, the couple took off on their first national collection-and-delivery tour.

Driving a 1998 three-quarter-ton Chevrolet pickup and pulling a 22½-foot Coachman tow-behind travel trailer that serves as both mobile home and laboratory, they logged 14,000 miles in 22 states and collected more than 400 semen samples, 382 of which they successfully froze.

To this enterprise, the couple brings some substantial experience. Nancy grew up in Exeter, N.H., and Geoff was born in Farmington, though he has spent much of his life in the Newmarket, N.H., region. In 1984, when the two met, Nancy was working in the office of an Exeter car dealership where Geoff was serving as a mechanic.

"But Geoff wanted to farm," said Nancy on Friday, "since he was that high," and she held her hand just 6 inches off the floor. So, off they went to New Sharon, where for almost eight years he served as herdsman on a 150-cow dairy farm.

Some 45 of those cows were their own, but at one point, Geoff and Nancy purchased two Alpine goats "to see if we would like them" - and they discovered them much easier to handle than the cows. Their goat herd expanded to seven, and then to 20. The couple two years ago sold their interest in the cows and moved back to the Exeter area to be closer to family. Now, they have a herd of 36 Alpines.

For Cheryle and Wyl, the Mastermans’ visit represented a big new step, but also a natural progression.

Three weeks ago, the two sponsored two official shows at their place, the fourth and fifth Mount Agamenticus Nigerian Miniature Dairy Goat Shows, held back-to-back on Saturday, July 26, and Sunday, July 27. The Saturday show drew 98 entries and the Sunday show drew 76, with 15 farms represented on Saturday and 13 on Sunday. Participants came mostly from Massachusetts but some also from Maine and New Hampshire.

Most significantly, Cheryle reported, the judge for the Saturday show was (as he has been for the Moore-Smith’s other shows) Harvey Considine, who drove from Wisconsin for the occasion and whom Cheryle described as "probably the most accepted expert on dairy goats in the United States."

Now age 77 or 78, he once owned the largest commercial goat dairy in the country, she added, has written widely on the subject and has passed on that interest to several of his children.

A son, Daniel Considine, said Cheryle, is current president of the American Dairy Goat Association, the largest dairy goat organization in the United States.

The judge for the Sunday show, Cheryle said, was Christine Macari, of Constantia, N.Y., who also drove to Old Mountain Farm for the occasion. Macari has, Cheryle reported, 27 years of experience at goat-show judging.

The shows boasted one other distinction: As a result of being introduced to Nigerian dwarfs by Cheryle, three Maine farms in addition to her own were represented there.

That was a first for Old Mountain Farm, Cheryle said -and one could add that it also represented yet another way in which York is now quietly drawing some very out-of-the-ordinary visitors.



All photography by Cheryle Moore-Smith except where noted.
©Cheryle Moore-Smith All rights reserved.

 Last updated 10-2-07