Joseph Leslie Henson was born in London. His father, Leslie Henson, was a well-known comedy actor and his mother Harriet Collins was also a stage performer, using the name "Billie Dell". Joe's younger brother was the actor Nicky Henson; Joe's nephew is composer Christian Henson. The family moved to Northwood, where as a child he enjoyed visiting a nearby farm where they still used working horses and milked the cows by hand. Attended Follyfield House at Felsted School from 1946 to 1950.
After work as a herdsman in Somerset he attended the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester (now the Royal Agricultural University). He worked for Earl Bathurst, then managed Salperton Park Estate near Cheltenham, before taking over the tenancy of Bemborough Farm from Corpus Christi College, Oxford with a former schoolfriend, John Neave.
He started to keep rare breeds, including Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, and in 1971 opened the Cotswold Farm Park to the public. He was the founder-chairman of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and received an MBE in the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours for services to conservation.
His son, Adam, who took over the running of the farm in 1999, is now a presenter on the weekly BBC countryside show Countryfile. Joe Henson also occasionally appeared on Countryfile, usually as a specialist adviser on items relating to rare breeds.
- Rita and William Vandivert (1982), "ch. 7 - Joe Henson and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust", To the Rescue: Seven Heroes of Conservation, p. 89, ISBN 0723262152
- Stephen Moss (1 November 2015). "Joe Henson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
- Joe Henson at Royal Agricultural University Alumni Retrieved 26 October 2015
- BBC News: "Cotswolds farmer honoured with MBE for rare breeds work"". 4 October 2011.
- Henson, Adam. "Joe Henson MBE: A year to remember", Cotswold Life, 17 November 2011
- Cotswold rare breeds 'champion' Joe Henson dies after illness, 6 October 2015
- Cotswold Farm Park Site Retrieved 26 October 2015