Dayna Rowe set her sights on becoming an onscreen actress. Tim Wilson wanted to reach Super Rugby heights as a conditioning coach. Thomas Chatfield was a qualified physiotherapist working in hospitals here and overseas.
Now they are deep in rural New Zealand, milking and tending to 1000 cows on a 320-hectare dairy farm at Pongakawa near Te Puke.
All three switched careers to dairying and haven't looked back. They have established new plans to carve out successful careers and livelihoods in the farming industry.
"There are opportunities in this industry — it never gets boring," said Wilson.
"Dayna and Tim came here last year and within five months I left for a holiday in Japan," said Chatfield, the manager and contract milker at Rowe Farms in Pongakawa.
"I left a multimillion-dollar farming operation in the hands of people who have been here for five months. There's no other industry that can provide an opportunity like that."
Chatfield, who grew up in Te Puna, gained a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from Otago University and worked for two years at Tauranga Hospital. He went overseas working as a locum based in London for three years before returning home.
"I was staying on a dairy farm at Matatā and planning to build some savings to move to Australia for physiotherapy. I was offered a job on the farm and I just figured 'why not'. Farming was never on my radar but I enjoyed living on the farm and decided to give it a go. I haven't left," said Chatfield.
Chatfield, 34, has now been in the industry for seven years, first working as a farm assistant and then 2IC over five years on a Whakatane farm that milked 500 cows. He is in his third year managing the Rowe Farms and leases a dry stock block near Te Puke.
"It has a dairy shed and may be in 12 months we will be milking the property," he said. Chatfield believes that within the next two years there is "a realistic opportunity" of buying his own farm.
"My current thinking is that Dayna and Tim are quite capable of running the (Rowe) farm and I can contract milk over a multiple of properties."
Chatfield established his own business, Arvika Dairy, and is paid by the owners Grant and Ngaire Rowe on the amount of milk produced, not on the latest Fonterra milk price.
Chatfield, in turn, pays his five-strong staff including Dayna Rowe, 21, and Wilson, 28.
"I'm better off than 90 per cent of the people I went to school with. How bad can that be?" said Chatfield.
Over the past three seasons Chatfield and his team have increased milk production from 350,000 milk solids per kg to 416,000 and are aiming to hit 420,000 milk solids per kg. The team operates a 60-unit rotary system and take two hours to milk 1000 cows twice a day, 300 days of the year.
The first milking is 4:30am — this doesn't faze Wilson and Rowe. "You are in bed and the alarm goes at 4:20am and you hate it. When you are out in the fresh air, it wakes you up and then you catch the sunrise and it's gold. You know why you are doing the job," Rowe says.
Chatfield has established a roster to manage the workload and each team member has periods of two weeks of being able to sleep in. "They don't all have to get up at 4am; we have enough staff and flexibility to cover the milking."
Rowe sees the positives. "I like the flexibility. I can be up early milking and be fishing with my dad at 2pm." Wilson finds time to pursue some online conditioning programmes with clients.
Head girl of Te Puke High School, Rowe went to Victoria University in Wellington to study film and theatre. "I did every audition under the sun but there were 1000 kids like me, if not better. It was very competitive and there didn't seem to be a huge endgame in New Zealand."
On her return home during the university holidays Chatfield offered her a summer student job. "I grew up on a farm, I had the confidence and I loved animals and the outdoors, but I didn't want to be a farmer. All my friends were in the big city.
"I started with a knapsack weed spraying, did some milking and bringing the cows up to the milking shed, and at the end of it I could drive a tractor. Then one of the staff on the farm left and I stayed."
Wilson, who has a Sports Science degree and post-graduate diploma from Auckland University of Technology and worked at AUT Millennium sports centre and Bay of Plenty Rugby, said "you are bringing cows to the shed and milking, you are fixing fences and machinery, and you are calving.
"You get involved with different trades and it doesn't get boring.
"In my last industry, there are only five Super Rugby teams and the opportunities are limited for a conditioning coach. For capable, reliable people, the sky is the limit in dairying."
Wilson and Rowe are studying for Level 4 certificates in dairying through the Primary ITO, and are aiming high. Like their boss Chatfield, they want to become farm managers and contract milkers, and lease or own a property.
"If I said at school that I was going into farming, I would have been steered away from it," said Dayna Rowe. "The perception of farming and the opportunities it provides needs to be changed at the school level. A lot of the training is done on the job and there are so many people armed with skillsets that would be an incredible asset for dairy farming."
Chatfield's advice for a prospective farm worker? "Don't be late and don't waste the farmer's time. We are busy. It is hard work, but the pros outweigh the cons and there is flexibility and opportunity. If you get through the first six months, then it's plain sailing."