KEENANWINS WITH CONCEPT MARKETING
FEW would dispute the fact that Keenan diet feeders continue to dominate the UK and Irish market. The company claims to hold some 85% market share.
While other manufacturers fight it out for the remainder, it is Keenan which appears to hold the trump cards.
It is success which, in recent years, has extended to other parts of the globe with Europe, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and North America becoming increasingly important areas.
So, what is the secret of the companys success? After all, the Keenan diet feeder – a simple robust machine – holds few mysteries. With the exception of its patented guillotine door which isolates the mixing area from the discharge auger and helps to ensure a "fluffy" fibrous mix – it would be fair to assume that an emulation of such technology is not beyond the capability of most manufacturers.
If it is not the actual design of the machine, what is it? The answer lies in the marketing operation.
Company boss Gerard Keenan fully appreciates that it was his father, Richard Keenan, who put the show on the road.
In the late 70s Richard Keenan split from his brothers construction engineering business and moved to Borris, Co Carlo, to manufacture a range of innovative small products, such as molasses applicators and root choppers.
His attention turned to diet feeders – the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) concept had been used as far back as 1940 in parts of the states but Mr Keenan was far from satisfied with the mixing machinery available.
First diet feeder
By the early 80s, he had perfected his first diet feeder which was used extensively on the family farm.
Exhibited at one of Irelands agricultural shows it was greeted with considerable interest from farmers looking to cut down on their feed costs.
And here is the Keenan secret. It was not just the machine he was selling, it was a concept – a system which, by using home-produced feed, had the potential to increase the profits of livestock farmers.
Keenan insists that quality home mixing of the total ration improves feed efficiency, raises animal performance, produces the required quality and promotes better animal health.
To drive the message home, a series of road shows were held, and opportunities to explain how TMR works were rarely missed.
By 1986 manufacture of diet feeders became the core business with production expanding annually to the point that 1500 units are now manufactured each year. Company turnover exceeds £20m.
Now in the hands of Richards son, Gerard Keenan, the same philosophy continues.
The company now advocates what it calls the "Fourth Dimension" – a system which uses Keenans nutritional expertise to formulate precise rations that can manipulate milk or beef quality to meet specific market requirements.
This has resulted in food chain alliances which aim to instil working partnerships between farmers and food processors. In terms of beef production, the ability to produce just what a processor requires can, it is claimed, result in a beast generating up to £100 above normal market prices.
For milk, feeding for a particular quality – butterfat or protein levels – can result in milk being more suitable for say, certain cheese production.
"It is all about creating a niche market," explains Gerard Keenan. "If, by giving beef and milk producers the ability to provide just what a particular processor requires, there will inevitably be financial rewards."
As for the diet feeder itself, the emphasis, says the company, has been to produce a machine which exudes reliability. A machine built by a farmer for farmers, is one of the companys favourite slogans. And history to date would seem to bear this out.
The simplicity of the machine would perhaps belie the many years testing and development which has resulted in the companys present range.
Built with only six bearings – each externally-mounted for easy replacement in the event of failure – power requirements are said to be low.
A characteristic of the Keenan machines is the type of feed it produces. Not over mixed or pulped to an over worked consistency, the machines gentle mixing action – paddle speed is about 6rpm – produces a fluffy feed which is claimed to be beneficial for digestion.
Keenan would also claim that its guillotine door, which isolates the feeding out auger, is a key factor in this fluffy mix due to the flights not coming into contact with the feed as it is mixed.
On later models, the company has changed the door opening system so that it is lowered rather than raised. This allows the door to be closed before the whole batch of feed has been emptied and, if required extra ingredients to be added to meet the requirements of different stock classes. It also lowers the load height of the machine.
For feed types which need an element of chopping – fodder beet, big bales of silage, straw, for example – there is now the FP version.
Still employing the single central paddle for mixing, the FP has paddles with regular gaps along them to allow them to pass over blades attached to the surface of the main mixing chamber.
Keenan points out that due to the paddles having a fixed clearance of 30mm around the knife on each side, any material shorter than this falls between the paddle and the knife.
So, what for the future? Gerard Keenan is convinced his company can maintain its market share and stay ahead of the competition.
"The Keenan concept is that we will continue to forge new ideas in terms of nutrition – creating that new niche for farmers, before anyone else climbs on board."
But what about self-propelled machines – do they have a future with the company?
"I think it is inevitable we shall have to take this route at some point in the future," says Mr Keenan. "But we must be sure that what we produce is as reliable as the kit we currently manufacture.
"It could be we enter an agreement to use another companys tractor unit and combine it with our feeder. Other companies have much more expertise in motive power and I believe this would be the correct approach."
Mr Keenan reports that he has already had exploratory talks with several tractor companies on this basis.
"An interim situation could be that we mount engines on to feeders just to provide a power source for the feeder," he says. "This would free up a tractor and, for those who have to travel distances between farms to feed stock – contractors, for example, it would mean that the loader tractor could pull the feeder onto site." *