Banbury area shepherd awarded long service medal for nearly 45 years in farming

A Banbury area shepherd has received the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Long Service medal for nearly 45 years of service in farming.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:34 pm
David Barnett, of Purston Lamb, and David Hill holding his long-service medal (photo from Purston Lamb and the Barnett family farm)
David Barnett, of Purston Lamb, and David Hill holding his long-service medal (photo from Purston Lamb and the Barnett family farm)

A Banbury area shepherd renown for his dedication and animal welfare knowledge has been awarded a long service medal for nearly 45 years in farming.

David Hill, 65, received the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Long Service medal on Thursday evening July 2 for his dedication and service as a shepherd.

This award is rarely awarded and rather special, because the RASE only award it to people who have been working for the same employer, or on the same holding, for more than 40 years. The award was presented to David by Margaret Behan of Smith & Clay butchers.

David Hill, 65, received the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Long Service medal for his dedication and service as a shepherd on the Barnett family farm near Middleton Cheney.

David Hill received the award for his service and work for the Barnett family farm in Purston near Middleton Cheney.

David and Annabel Barnett run Purston Lamb, and their families have been farming in the Oxfordshire/Northamptonshire borders since 1820. In 1992 they moved from the old family home near Bicester to the Purston Estate near Banbury.

Hermione Crawford, David Barnett’s daughter who handles the website and marketing for the family farm, said: "David Hill virtually single handedly looks after our flock of 800 sheep just outside Middleton Cheney, come rain or shine, Christmas or holidays, and lambs the various different breeds 3 times a year."

David Hill started with working with the Barnett family in 1977 when he was 21 years old, first as a gardener at Swifts House near Bicester, and then with the sheep, which David Barnett (74) introduced in 1981. When the Barnett family had to leave the farm where they had lived for 126 years due to the M40, they were lucky enough to find a home only 10 miles away - the rolling hills of Purston between Banbury and Brackley. David, his wife Elaine and their two daughters Nicola and Lucy came too.

David Barnett, of Purston Lamb, David Hill holds his long-service medal, and Stephen Smith and Margaret Behan of Smith & Clay Butchers. (Image from Purston Lamb)

The 600-strong flock of North Country Mules was established more than 35 years ago, producing grass-fed lambs during the spring and early summer.

In 2007, due to strong local demand, a flock of 200 pedigree poll Dorset ewes was added, to lamb in November and December. In 2014 to complete year-round lambing, David added a further 100 Lleyn ewes, who lamb outdoors in May, providing New Season Purston Lamb all year round. This means David has to lamb three times a year.

Hermione added: "David is an incredibly dedicated shepherd, and what he doesn’t know about sheep farming isn’t worth knowing. His understanding of animal welfare is so good our lamb loss rates are half the national average.

"He is a local lad born and bred, and still uses dogs (his collie Maid, and Indy who has just retired) to round up the sheep on our family-run farm, though he now whizzes around on an ATV. The collie’s first job when they start is always to learn how to stay on a moving quad bike. Our lamb is sold through Smith and Clay butchers and we have multiple testimonials on its deliciousness, which is greatly due to his care of the lambs."

Mr Barnett said, “David is amazing: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cross word from him or heard him swear, and as anyone who has ever worked with sheep - or watched Clarkson’s Farm on Netflix - knows, you just think, how can that man handle animals that are so incredibly trying, and determined to go in the wrong direction, without swearing?

"David Hill’s knowledge, experience and care for the animals form a major part of the success of the Purston flocks.”

David has seen some extraordinary moments in farming, from the horror of foot and mouth in 2001 where the countryside smelled of burning animals for months, to the Beast from the East storms in 2018, right in the middle of lambing, where the only helper got through to the farm because she rode in on her horse over the snow.

Throughout the Covid lockdown there was no such thing as furlough – the sheep and lambs needed to be fed, as did the population, so David Barnett and David Hill simply worked harder than ever.

The Barnetts sell their lamb direct to customer through their website, which can be seen here: www.purstonlamb.com and to the multi award-winning family-run butcher Smith & Clay (Brackley and Buckingham,) and have done so for 16 years.

Their lamb burgers are famous in south Northants/Bucks.

Margaret Behan, managing director at Smith & Clay Butchers, said: “Our partnership with Purston Lamb is something we’re very proud of and it’s an honour to present this medal to someone as hard-working as David.”