Third generation Northumberland sheep and cattle farmer Willie Weatherson is the new national president of NEMSA – the North of England Mule Sheep Association.

He was unanimously elected at the annual meeting in Hawes, taking over from fellow Northumberland farmer Peter Lee, of Morley Hill, Whitfield. Both share a passion for and are long-standing champions of the all-purpose North of England Mule.

Last year, the Weatherson family celebrated a memorable milestone – 100 years as custodians at Edges Green Farm, above Haltwhistle, right 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 Northern Farmer: Willie Weatherson in the pens

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.

Mr Weatherson is a lifelong NEMSA member – he well 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 charman for two years from 1999-2001, a key period post-foot and mouth.

Mr Weatherson said: “We have the best breed in the country. You can’t get anything better when it comes to mothering abilities and milkiness. Our 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. She is, quite simply, the best.”