The new national president of the North of England Mule Sheep Association (NEMSA) is third generation Northumberland sheep and cattle farmer Willie Weatherson.

He was unanimously elected at the annual meeting in Hawes, taking over from fellow Northumberland farmer Peter Lee, of Morley Hill, Whitfield.

Last year, the Weatherson family celebrated a memorable milestone – 100 years as custodians at Edges Green Farm, above Haltwhistle, in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and first farmed by Mr Weatherson’s grandfather, also Willie, from 1923, followed by his own son, Thomas, and in turn to the present incumbent and his wife, Joyce.

The couple’s son Stewart – they also have a married daughter Judith – is the fourth generation of the family to be involved in the enterprise and for the past eight years has farmed in his own right just down the road at Moss House, Coanwood, with wife Stacy, daughter Heidi, seven, and five-year-old son Angus, potentially the future fifth generation of the farming Weathersons.

The 1,800-acre hill farm, a mixture of moorland and pasture, both owned and rented, is home to 1,250 ewes, comprising 1,000 Northumberland Blackface and 250 Texel and Cheviot, with Bluefaced Leicester tups – they always look for a good big animal with power and confirmation – sourced from recognised breeders.

The Leicester then goes to the Northumberland Blackface to produce some 250 Mules annually – they breed all their own replacements – with ewe lambs sold only at Hexham and wether lambs at Hexham, Carlisle and Longtown.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Willie Weatherson with his flock – Picture: John Bentley

Mr Weatherson is a lifelong NEMSA member. He remembers attending the very first launch meeting at Greenhead between Carlisle and Newcastle back in 1980, and is currently serving his second term as chairman of Northumberland Branch. He was also NEMSA’s national chairman for two years from 1999-2001, a key period post-foot-and-mouth.

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 Sheep Breeders' 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.

The Weatherson family also runs a 70-head suckler cow herd comprising Limousin cross and British Blue cross, which all go to the Limousin bull to produce well-formed cattle best sold at eight to ten months.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Willie Weatherson in the pens

During his two-year term as NEMSA president, Mr Weatherson said the 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.

He said: “We have the best breed in the country. You can’t get anything better when it comes to mothering abilities and milkiness."

His comments were echoed by Jonathan Hodgson, of 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 said: “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.”

Geoff Walker, Beechcroft Farm, near Cockermouth, was re-elected national vice-chairman, with Jeff Burrow, Thursgill, continuing as treasurer and other officials re-elected en bloc.