NORTH of England Mule sheep breeders must maintain standards for the shepherds of the UK, association chairman Kevin Wilson told the annual meeting.

He said they should also have a strong presence at shows and events to promote the Mule to gain future buyers and breeders, and encourage the younger generation to become more involved at every opportunity.

Mr Wilson, of Hewness House Farm, Blubberhouses, said his first year as chairman had an eventful start: “The Beast from the East hit our breeding sheep hard, disrupting lambing and having devastating consequences for many. The wet spring and a very dry summer slowed crop growth and grazing for our livestock, the short supply of grass adversely affected the main sheep sales and buyers were very selective."

He said trade started slowly for shearlings and carried on to the gimmer lambs. While strong tupping lambs were good to sell, running lambs proved harder to place This trend was reported from all auction centres who staged official annual NEMSA sales.

The association had greatly enhanced both its identity and image by significantly stepping up its promotional and marketing activities, which had produced more articles in the farming press and an increased social media presence.

“To help this grow further I would like to encourage the different branches to become more involved and post information, pictures and articles of interest to further promote our breed,” said Mr Wilson, who was unanimously re-elected as chairman.

President Randal Raine, of Outhwaite Farm, Renwick, Penrith, completed his three-year term of office and handed over to new president Jeff Taylor, who also farms in Cumbria with his wife, Linda, and two sons, Craig and Richard, at Swathburn Farm, Great Asby.

Mr Taylor has bred Mules since the age of 12 and is a founder member of NEMSA and former Kirkby Stephen branch chairman.

Mr Raine was thanked by Mr Wilson for all his efforts in promoting the North of England Mule over many years, prompting the retiring president to say: “Our beloved Mule ewe has been on the go for over 50 years and I am confident she has another good 50 years ahead of her. The Mule ewe is here to stay and I am looking forward to the next generation. If we look after her she will look after us.”

Mr Wilson also made a special presentation of a bouquet of flowers to NEMSA secretary Marion Hope to mark the completion of her tenth year in post.

Other officers re-elected included sheep farmer Chris Harrison, of Alston, as vice chairman, and Mule breeder Jeff Burrow, of Kendal, as treasurer.

Officials also warmly thanked NEMSA’s two main long-term sponsors, Shearwell Data and Animax, for their ongoing support and generosity. Animax’s GB North of England representative Tom Rayner handed over a cheque for £2,500. “We are keen to work more closely with you. NEMSA is a brilliant society,” he said.

The 35th annual meeting was held at The Hired Lad, Penrith Auction Mart. Vet Robin Hargreaves was guest speaker. He is principal of the Stanley House Veterinary Group in Colne, having been in practice for 33 years, specialising in small companion animals.

As a farmer’s son born and bred in Malhamdale, Mr Hargreaves said he had long held a great affinity with NEMSA, as his father Eric (Flock No 308) helped found the Skipton branch in the 1980s, while his brother David also farmed Mules for many years.

He praised NEMSA for its “tremendous foresight” in both creating and developing the North of England Mule as an extremely versatile product, with its particularly wide-ranging appeal to sheep farmers and breeders in the south of the country.

A former president of the British Veterinary Association, Mr Hargreaves regaled his packed audience with an enthralling and often amusing insight into his work over the years.

NEMSA was established in 1980 to promote the many attributes of the North of England Mule to both breeders and purchasers alike. With nine branches and over 1,000 members NEMSA is now thought to be the largest commercial sheep breed association in the UK.