Farmers across the Mid-West and beyond know they can depend on O’Connell’s Crecora Mills, who have been manufacturing and supplying high-quality animal feeds for coming up on four decades. We touched base with director Paul O’Connell to get an update on this exceptional family-run operation.
A family ethos lies at the heart of O’Connell’s Crecora Mills, who consistently go out of their way to provide farmers with a personal service and as such have built up lasting relationships with customers throughout Munster and beyond since the genesis of the industry-leading animal feeds business in the early 1980s.
“A lot of our customers have been with us since day one. Once they come on board, they tend to stay with us, which is a great vote of confidence,” notes Paul O’Connell, who is head of nutrition. “Indeed, it is very much a family business – my father John and mother Phyllis are still involved on a day-to-day basis as are my sister Lorraine (accounts) and brother Jonathan (sales / shops manager).”
At present, full-time employment is generated for a team of 35 in total across Crecora Mills’ three locations with state-of-the-art mills and farm supply stores at Crecora, and Castlemahon in Limerick and a depot / store near Listowel in North Kerry. The staff represent one of the business’ greatest assets: “We’ve kept growing steadily over the years and a lot of our staff have been with us for at least 10-15 years,” Paul continues. “Our workers have been loyal to us and we like to think this is partly down to the fact that we make it a good place to work.
“Nobody here will ever be asked to do something that Dad or I wouldn’t be prepared to do ourselves. We are hands-on and I’ll happily go out and help with deliveries when the lads need a hand or work night shifts when the pressure comes on. The team spirit is very strong and that’s definitely one of our big strengths.”
The business has grown naturally and organically since John O’Connell started making animal feed in the early 1980s in a move to diversify the family farm business. What started as a small enterprise buying, drying and selling local grain and selling chemicals expanded quickly into selling rolled barley, wheat and oats and soon blossomed into a full coarse ration animal feed mill.
Using the finest ingredients, quality feeds are manufactured for beef and dairy cattle, calves, weanlings, heifers, lambs, ewes and horses. “It’s the dairy sector predominantly that has driven the recent growth,” says Paul. “It was relatively small up until 2006 but dairy has really taken off and gone from strength to strength since we opened the second mill in Castlemahon in ’07.
“Our Dairy MaxGrass nuts and Calf Max nuts have earned a really good reputation with dairy farmers. They do exactly what they say on the tin and farmers tend to stick with them for that reason. Dairy nuts and pellets have become a huge part of the business. Most of our sales were in beef up until 2007 but 60%-plus is now dairy.”
As beef farmers themselves, the O’Connells possess an innate understanding of what it is like to be standing on both sides of the counter. Their own practical experience of working a family farm means they know exactly the level of quality products, service and value farmers expect, nay demand. This results in constant appraisal and improvement of the animal feeds themselves, the facilities and the overall efficiency of the service provided:
“We are continuously developing new formulations and we would trial those on our own farm,” Paul adds. “It’s very important that we have used the feeds ourselves and that we know for certain how effective they are. As well as farming ourselves every day, we also have a few long-term customers whom we’ve worked very closely with since the ‘90s and I can go to them any time and ask them very straight questions and will get a very straight answer. Feedback like that is invaluable in helping us determine what can we do better; what can be improved upon; what are the problems facing farmers; and what can be done to make their lives better.”
To maintain complete control of both the manufacture and supply of their animal feeds, O’Connell’s Crecora Mills operate their own fleet of eleven modern and immaculate-maintained trucks fitted with high-speed bulk delivery systems, which means they can ensure prompt and secure deliveries pretty much around the clock. “You have to keep the show on the road and handling the deliveries in-house enables us to offer the best-possible service. We have complete control this way and the buck stops here. If a customer rings us in a panic, we can look after him immediately and that’s a huge asset to have.”
With its high maize content, O’Connell’s Crecora Mills’ DairyMax range has become something of a sensation in the Mid-West. The main ingredients are maize (30%), beet pulp, soya hulls, barley and HiPro soya. This game-changing feed also contains a rumen buffer agent, active yeast and the manufacturers can also put in a special fertility mineral pack if required. DairyMax is specifically targeted at cows making the transition from silage to grass and into the grazing season. “We are tweaking our products all the time, constantly improving the mineral content and keeping up to date with all developments and requirements,” Paul notes.
How important is competitive pricing? After all, farmers – like the rest of us – are always watching the bottom line… “The goal is to have a good product at a good price delivered on time. All three of these elements must come together. As a small business, we can move fast and we are responsive. We can subtly tweak the formulations and, for example, make sure we have the right fibre going in for second-rotation grass. There is quite a bit of science and a lot of knowledge going into our products and it’s always gratifying when the feedback from customers is good and when you can stand over your products.”
All Crecora Mills animal feed products have full traceability and are formulated with regard to animal nutrition needs. A nutritional advice service is also offered to customers to help them grow their profits using these feeds.
“As we make our own products, we have full control of exactly what goes into them,” Paul concludes. “Farmers have become more discerning and rightly so – they will check the labels to make sure there are quality raw materials in it and we have taken that ethos on board to provide quality feeds made using quality ingredients. Word of mouth is a big thing for us. We don’t advertise at all – customers talk to one another and that’s where our business comes from.
“We’ve invested a lot of money into modernising our Castlemahon facility with the introduction of new equipment, increased automation and also new staff – all of whom are local. The local factor is very important to us. We keep our business local when buying. We firmly believe that if you support local businesses and put your money into the local economy, it will come back around to you eventually.”
O’Connell’s Crecora Mills
Tel: 061 355186
Fax: 061 355658
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 4, July/August 2021