Encouraging the younger generation is essential for the industry, stressed retiring chairman Kevin Wilson at the 36thannual meeting of the North of England Mule Sheep Association. (Morritt Arms, Greta Bridge, Monday, Feb 17)

The North Yorkshire sheep farmer – he farms with his wife Daphne and son James at Hewness House Farm, Blubberhouses, between Skipton and Harrogate – said that with this in mind NEMSA was attempting to find the correct approach to improve links with agricultural colleges across the UK to work with both students and the breed, and to move forward together.

Mr Wilson said he had thoroughly enjoyed his two-year term in office, representing NEMSA at events and shows both near and far and meeting people old and new to the society.

Regarding 2019 lambing, he commented: “Most of us had a good lambing, with plenty of lambs on the ground and a decent summer, also keeping dry for our annual sales, which started slowly, with buyers cautious, but did improve through the sales season, with average prices up on the previous year.”

The outgoing chairman reported that the breed was now gaining a greater presence in the farming press. “Even Jeremy Clarkson has seen the light, buying Mules at Thame for his farm. We have also been asked to find a shepherd for lambing time, which is to be filmed for a tv programme. This is a great opportunity for us to gain more support and publicity for our commercial breeding sheep which must not be missed,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of social media and urged members to keep posting articles and pictures to further promote the breed.

Mr Wilson noted: “Eventually, Brexit has happened and we have left Europe, but none of us knows what the outcome will be in the future. However, the finished lamb prices at the moment are good, so let’s hope they are maintained.

“We must keep our standards up, keep pushing the North of England Mule, improving the breed and staying at the top. I am sure more opportunities will appear,” he said, thanking all sponsors, past and current officials, district chairmen and committee members for their support over the past two years.

Unanimously elected to succeed Mr Wilson as chairman was vice-chairman Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston. A former chairman of NEMSA’s Lazonby branch, he is a third generation Mule breeder, now joined by the fourth generation in his son Richard. The family currently keeps a 700-strong flock of Swaledale ewes, which are put to bought-in Bluefaced Leicester tups – the dam and sire of the all-purpose North of England Mule.

Outside farming, Mr Harrison played rugby at county level for Cumbria and is now a season ticket holder at Newcastle United FC. He is a former Eden District councillor and currently serves on Alston Parish Council.

“My immediate aim is to follow in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessors and continue their fine work in promoting both the association and the breed at every opportunity in times of continuing uncertainty,” he said.

The vice-chairman’s role has been filled by second generation North of England Mule breeder Jonathan Hodgson, who farms at High Borrans, Windermere, and is a former NEMSA Kendal branch chairman. He is a director of North West Auctions and former president of Windermere RUFC.

Geff Taylor, who farms in Great Asby, was re-elected president and Jeff Burrow, of Kendal, as treasurer. All other officer were re-elected en bloc. Guest speaker was farmer and building contractor Mark Smith, founder and managing director of The HACS Group in Ripley, Harrogate.