NEMSA remains in fine heart, with a growing membership fast approaching four figures and a solid financial footing, members heard at a well-attended 34th annual general meeting in Settle.

The meeting was also told that the breed, too,remains as strong as ever, with the main high profile members-only ewe lamb sales held at auction marts across the north of England throughout September and October each year achieving total sales of some 246,000 head in 2017, the highest for some time.

The annual meeting unanimously re-elected Randal Raine, of Renwick, Penrith, as president for his third year in office, while his nephew James Raine, of nearby Kirkoswald, after completing his two-year term as chairman, handed over the reins to the vice-chairman, North Yorkshire’s Kevin Wilson, of Hewness House Farm, Blubberhouses, between Skipton and Harrogate, who was also elected unanimously.

The outgoing chairman thanked all concerned for their support and wished his successor every possible success. “Efforts to further promote the North of England Mule have been commendable. Lamb sales figures were up last year and trade was better than we might have expected. We must continue to collectively market and promote the breed wherever possible – and showcase just what our commercial ewe is capable of,” stressed Mr Raine.

Mr Wilson said he was looking forward to building on the success of both the association and the Mule breed in general and he agreed with his predecessor that marketing and promotion should be high on his list of priorities. “It is vitally important we get more young people involved. Social media is a powerful tool, particularly among younger generations,  and we must seek to maximise its full potential,” he said.

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

Officials also paid tribute to the ongoing support and generosity of NEMSA’s two main long-term sponsors, Shearwell Data and Animax, which has been supporting the association for more than 30 years. Animax’s GB sales manager Jim Adair and North of England representative Tom Rayner handed over a cheque for £2500.

The meeting, held at North Ribblesdale Rugby Club, welcomed another member of the Raine family, the president’s cousin David Raine, of Old Parks, Kirkoswald, as guest speaker. The upland sheep farmer and NFU Cumbria county chairman is a true champion and informed spokesperson on behalf of the UK sheep sector.

He gave an in-depth review of the history and development of the UK sheep industry, notably its present-day influence in European markets, which now account for 40% of the UK’s trade.