When Randal Raine hands over the presidency of NEMSA, the North of England Mule Sheep Association, after a three-year tenure at the annual meeting this month he says he is confident he will leave the association in great heart and in safe hands.

The Cumbrian NEMSA stalwart and figurehead said: “I feel deeply honoured and priveleged to have served as president for the past three years. A great deal has happened and we have continued to make progress both as an association and as a breed society in promoting and furthering the many and varied attributes of the all-purpose North of England Mule.

“Much of the credit for this must, of course, go to to our Council,  branch chairmen and members for their continuing support. I have also been extremely lucky to have the backing of two national chairmen past and present, firstly my nephew James Raine, and now Kevin Wilson.

“Many thanks must also go to our hard-working secretary Marion Hope. Her dedicattion is nothing short of amazing and she continues to be a tower of strength, working so hard on behalf on NEMSA and our members. She will have been in the post for a decade at this year’s AGM. This is a milestone in itself and hearty congratulations are in order.”

During his term of office, Mr Raine has represented NEMSA at numerous events across the country, among them exhibitions and national, county and local agricultural shows, many of which feature competition classes for the North of England Mule.

“We have always been well supported by our members,who continue to breed and exhibit top quality sheep at shows throughout the country,” he said, singling out two among many for special mention – the Royal Highland Show and the East of England Winter Fair, Peterborough, both increasingly popular as high profile venues to showcase the breed and raise its profile north of the border and across the Midlands, developing areas for the North of England Mule.

Mr Raine also announced: “For the first time this year we will have a presence at the Royal Welsh Show. We are really looking forward to it and hope our members will support this prestigious platform. It will allow us to open more doors into Wales, which is fast becoming an increasingly important breeding ground for the North of England Mule.”

Mr Raine paid tribute to all the northern auction marts who continue to stage annual NEMSA ewe, shearling and gimmer lamb sales for their continuing support, along with the many buyers who make the annual pilgrimage from all corners of the UK to attend these popular annual fixtures.

“Among them are many long distance travellers from down country. We are always delighted to see them and to welcome both repeat and new purchasers who continue to place their faith in the North of England Mule, which not only remains Britain’s most prolific sheep breed in terms of numbers, but is also the country’s most popular commercial sheep,” said Mr Raine.

He feels both body and breed remain in fine heart. “Our membership is rising by around 30 per year, which is good to see. We now have over 1,000 members across our nine branches, which, I am pretty certain, continues to make us the largest commercial sheep breed association in the country.

“There is little doubt that the North of England Mule as a breed is standing its ground well and still has an integral part to play in the UK sheep sector. We continue to respond well to increasing competition from ‘other breeds and many of the long- established users and breeders I have met over the years – Mule aficianados one and all – often tell me they are still simply the best.

“Having said that, we must not rest on our laurels. We must continue to promote and collectively market the breed at high profile annual events and demonstrate just what our commercial ewe is capable of in terms of her hardiness, thriftiness, longevity and prolificacy,” stressed Mr Raine.

Like other members of the family, Mr Raine is a NEMSA stalwart in the truest sense of the word. When the association was first established in 1960 he well remembers attending some of the earliest meetings. He is a former Lazonby branch chairman and also served as national chairman.

The Mule sheep remains central to the Raine family business. Now well into his 70s, Mr Raine still farms hands-on at Outhwaite Farm, Renwick, a hill farm on the North Pennines on the eastern side of Cumbria. The farm runs a registered flock of Swaledale sheep, a proportion of which are put to the Swaledale tup, the remainder to the Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce – what else but the beloved Mule! There is also a suckler cow herd at Outhwaite Farm.

Also part of the Raine family farming partnership is Fog Close Farm in nearby Kirkoswald, a lowland farm run by Mr Raine’s brother Robin and his own son James – Mr Raine’s nephew – with James’ teenage son, Oliver, now taking on increasing responsibility after leaving school. They fatten cattle and sheep from both farms and also have a suckler herd, as well as growing their own barley for home use.

Mr Raine is due to hand over the presidency at NEMSA’s agm on Monday. February 18, at the Hired Lad Restaurant at Penrith & District Farmers Mart, on Monday, February 18that 7.30pm.The president-elect is Geoff Taylor, Swathburn, Kirkby Stephen.