In 2016, the future looked bleak for Keenan, the Irish agritech firm known for its cattle feed machinery products.
It was in receivership, had debts in the region of €14 million, and was on the lookout for a buyer.
Five years later and all has changed. The business was acquired by Alltech, the global animal nutrition firm founded by the late Pearse Lyons, and the purchase gave fresh impetus to the company.
Keenan, which employs around 225 people, has been selling feed mixers to farmers around the world since 1978, but the company also offers nutritional advice and, increasingly, technological solutions to its customers.
It has made rapid advances over recent years in these areas and has just won an Established Agritech Award from Enterprise Ireland after developing a new system, InTouch, which it uses to manage the feeding of 300,000 animals on thousands of farms around the world.
Now on its fourth generation, InTouch allows farmers to easily measure, monitor and manage the accuracy of the feed they’re giving to their livestock. It is designed for ease of use on the farm and can be controlled from an app.
“Keenan, when we took it over, was a very exciting proposition for us, because it allowed us to get closer to the farmer,” Robbie Walker, its chief executive, said.
“We were attracted by the fact that we were able to give direct advice and nutritional technology to farmers.”
Walker worked at Alltech for more than 14 years before taking on the role at Keenan. While the latter traditionally marketed its nutritional products to feed mills which then sold them to farmers, the machinery developed by Keenan is “essentially a feed mill on wheels”, Walker said. “It gives control to the farmer to do their own mixing.”
After taking over Keenan, Alltech added a range of new technologies to the mixing wagons which had earned the Carlow company its reputation. These included a self-propelled machine as well as industrial mixing products.
“But our biggest focus was on the InTouch system,” Walker said. “It’s the most exciting part of what we do, because it’s an innovation that’s all about monitoring how the animal gets fed, and advising on the best nutrition for the animal.”
Keenan is now the dominant brand in diet feeders across Ireland, Britain and France, and holds a “strong market share” in several other markets around the world, Walker added.
“Our Irish green machines are running in 42 countries, and we’d have distribution and technical support services in each of those countries,” he said.
It is now placing sustainability at the centre of its operations, with technology that aims to help farmers produce more milk and meat while reducing emissions.
“For us, profitability and sustainability are inextricably linked,” Walker said. “If you’re a farmer and you’ve got profitable production, it means you’re getting more milk out of every kilo of feed. Which means you’ve got much lower greenhouse gas emissions.
“Environmental issues, we believe, are the biggest business opportunity that we have. So where are we going? Very far into sustainability.”