On a 180-hectare farm in the Whangaehu Valley, in the Wanganui/Manawatu region, Humphrey and Fiona O’Leary mix milking cows, growing maize and breeding racehorses.
While some may shy away from the idea of three different types of farming, Fiona says the relaxed on-farm systems in place for the racehorses make it work.
The O’Leary’s emigrated from Ireland approximately 140 years ago, with the following generation of sons settling mainly in the Whangaehu Valley to dairy farm. Today, you will find four O’Leary brothers still occupying much of the region – Humphrey, Dan, Michael and Shaun. It is a close-knit family with three sisters, Eileen, Marie and Joan.
While growing up, Humphrey’s father, Humphrey Senior, dabbled in thoroughbred breeding using his own breed. While only gaining moderate results, it sowed the seed for young Humphrey’s interest. In recent years and in conjunction with lowering dairy numbers, Humphrey and Fiona have started their own breeding program, with four broodmares and each of their respective foals being the foundation.
The O’Learys do all the early handling work themselves for the first year before the horses head off to the professional breakers to be broken in and then come back to the farm for a good rest.
“We have a relaxed system on farm that tends to lend to later starting racehorses,” Fiona said. “We handle our foals regularly for the first year, just very basic sessions and then off to professional breakers and then back for a big rest again – we prefer them to develop and grow, being on our watch, on farm we have the luxury of time and we like to use it.”
Utilizing their own property for this break means Humphrey and Fiona can keep an eye on their growth and development, and give them the time they need. With former successful racehorse now turned broodmare, Ladies First, in their broodmare band, it is no wonder they are keen to keep an eye on things.
Ladies First was successful in the 2018 Group One Auckland Cup and has since produced two foals by Zed and is in-foal to the sire of the moment, Proisir. Her half-brother Ladies Man also by Zed, is the recent Trentham Stakes winner.
The farm boasts two 12-hectare paddocks which have been set aside to accommodate the horses. About three times during the milking season the cows will go in and eat the paddocks out to clean them up; alternatively, there are a few larger safer paddocks in the dairy rotation that the horses will also share.
A 160 dairy milking herd, plus 130 calves, replacements yearlings and beef stock; along with the four broodmares and foals can make it a busy day for Humphrey and Fiona.
“Calving for us starts mid-August – we are over by early October,” she said. “If any mares that stay on farm for foaling, we have safe foaling paddocks and stable area for them, separate from the dairy platform.”
However, with the help of one permanent staff member and a relief milker they are able to attend racedays, this is a farming and thoroughbred breeding operation that co-exists and works well.
- If you are interested in starting your own thoroughbred breeding journey, plenty of advice and help can be found at nzthoroughbred.co.nz