NORTHUMBERLAND sheep and cattle farmer Willie Weatherson is the new national president of NEMSA – the North of England Mule Sheep Association. He was unanimously elected at February’s annual meeting in Hawes, taking over from fellow Northumberland farmer Peter Lee, Morley Hill, Whitfield.

Last year, the Weatherson family celebrated 100 years as custodians at Edges Green Farm, Haltwhistle, in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and first farmed by Mr Weatherson’s grandfather, also Willie, followed by his own son, Thomas, and in turn to the present incumbent and his wife, Joyce.

The couple’s son Stewart has for the past eight years farmed in nearby Coanwood.

The main 1,800-acre hill farm is home to 1,250 ewes, comprising 1,000 Northumberland Blackface and 250 Texel and Cheviot, with Bluefaced Leicester tups. The Leicester then goes to the Northumberland Blackface to produce some 250 Mules annually.

Mr Weatherson is a lifelong NEMSA member and currently serving his second term as chairman of Northumberland Branch. He was also NEMSA’s national chairman for two years from 1999-2001.

Last year, he also played a leading role in a breed-promoting initiative involving farmers across the north and a four-way link-up between NEMSA, the Suffolk and Texel Sheep Societies, and Swaledale Sheepbreeders Association.

It utilised both live video and drone footage to highlight via social media channels scenarios involving best use and best practice involving their individual breeds. Two well-known Craven farming families also featured – the Stockdales, of Oat Croft Farm, Burnsall, and the Deans, Toft House, Threshfield.

Mr Weatherson said: “We have the best breed in the country. You can’t get anything better when it comes to mothering abilities and milkiness. Our aim as an Association and as individual breeders must be to continue to promote the North of England Mule and her many and varied attributes. She is, quite simply, the best.”

His comments were echoed by Jonathan Hodgson, High Borrans, Windermere, who was re-elected national chairman and said his main aim during his second year in office would be to attract as many non-member Mule breeders as possible to join the Association.

He commented: “Our job is to publicise the Mule’s attributes. We need to work together and almost rebrand the NEMSA Mule. Moving forward, I firmly believe we need a health plan for all diseases, enabling us to have more information on sale catalogues. I am conscious that our sheep numbers will decrease with current government policy. Keeping numbers, looking after them and working together is a priority.”

Guest speaker was Derek Hall, chairman of The Mule Group, established several years ago to promote and market all types of Mule sheep as the premier breeding female. “The hybrid vigour of Mules makes then unrivalled when it comes to breeding,” he noted.

NEMSA has a strong and active Skipton branch, chaired by local farmer Michael Burnop. Skipton Auction Mart’s annual high profile Mule ewe lamb sales this autumn are scheduled for Tuesdays, September 10 and 24.