A novel approach to sheep dipping has seen Neil Fell establish an innovative and unique contracting business, which has seen demand for the service soar. Jemima Lewis-Jones finds out more.

After developing an innovative sheep system, N.R. Fell Mobile Dipping was crowned Contractor Innovator of the Year at the 2021 British Farming Awards. Neil Fell has been contract dipping across the UK since 2014 and has gone from a third-generation mixed farm to launch an award-winning contracting business with a difference. Due to the spread and seriousness of sheep scab in the UK, numbers are on the rise and, due to his own challenges with his sheep flock, Neil realised the most effective way of dealing with the problem is effective dipping using organophosphates to kill ectoparasites on sheep. Such is the appetite from farmers needing to eradicate it from flocks, his workload has gone from 2,000 sheep being dipped a year to 500,000 and he believes the key to his success has been the efficiency and care of his hydraulic dippers, designed by himself in 2017. The idea to venture into this niche sector was sparked by a visit to a fish and chip shop after what he described as a nightmare of a day. While waiting for his order, his attention turned to the chip dipper when he noticed the chips were slowly dipped into the oil, had no splash and lifted just at the press of a button. Seven months later, Neil’s idea of designing and building a hydraulic sheep dipper became a reality and it was loaded onto a second-hand lorry for its first job to dip his own sheep before venturing out to his customers.


The business currently operates three custom-built mobile dippers, including one in Ireland, plus a conventional plunge dipper and all are mounted onto lorries. Having worked on his family farm in Brancepeth, Durham, Neil never thought his business would have excelled to the impressive operation it is today and to become an employer to two full-time employees and four part-time seasonal workers. Prior to his invention he used a conventional dipping system on his own
flock. He then called in a contractor who had a mobile sheep dipper, which Neil believed to be a far better method. After a couple of years he bought the mobile dipper from his contractor for personal use only. But word got out about the potential service it offered and the business quickly grew. In the first year, Neil dipped 2,500 sheep which snowballed, compared to today’s output, where Neil can dip up to 2,500 sheep in just one morning. Neil formed a partnership with Andrew Davies of Synergy Farm Health, an independent veterinary practice in South West England. Synergy used the hydraulic dipper in its early years, but as the dipping business grew, Andrew and Neil agreed to partner and have a hydraulic dipper based in the South West for Synergy customers and accessible for farms outside the practice in the south. The design also considers animal welfare and environmental challenges by relieving the stress of the sheep by lowering them into the pool; their feet are kept on the floor until their heads are under for a split second where their feet are not touching the floor. Environmentally, the dipper keeps everything contained, including run-off that flows back into the pool. As a result, soil and/or worms are not harmed. Neil has also considered the operator’s health and safety within the design and, because there is no splash, there are fewer airborne particles affecting the operator and no poisoning. All the design elements combined – and his clear measure of success – captured praise from the judges who went on to name him the winner of the Contractor Innovator of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards. Since winning the award Neil has found, through publicity in Farmers Guardian, that customer numbers have risen a further 4 per cent and he believes his success is not just down to the successful practical delivery of dipping but offering by a quality customer service.


He will do the first dipping service himself on a new farm so if there are any enquiries he is able to address them immediately, and he also ensures he contacts every customer after each service to check they are happy and if there are any more queries he can address. It has also spurred a meeting with the company that makes the dip to look at the licencing opportunities in Europe and to take N.R. Fell Mobile Dipping abroad and reach potential further clients. Neil is looking into taking the hydraulic dippers to Europe, New Zealand and Australia and has had meetings with the French veterinary authority about the possibility of putting a hydraulic dipper in France.