Wayne Fipke began his life on the farm and then returned after a varied career in show business, diamond mining and property development.
His family originally lived in Alberta, although he was born in Ottawa in 1948. He eventually ended up on a small farm near Kelowna, B.C.
“One of the things about farming and being poor is you learn to innovate,” he said.
“Adversity creates more self reliance and more ability to do things. That helped me a lot.”
He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of British Columbia and did post graduate studies in administration at Harvard. He put himself through university by working in sawmills, as a carpenter, as an aerial photographer and as a tutor for investment dealers getting licences.
He served as director of financial programs with Alberta Culture for three years before taking over as general manager for Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre for 11 years.
He worked briefly as a convention centre manager in California before agreeing to work with his brother, Chuck, who was a geologist exploring for diamonds in the Northwest Territories.
He became president of Dia Met Minerals when the company consisted of a few boxes and not much more than hope that their hunches would pay off. For five years, the brothers staked and developed Canada’s first diamond mine, the Ektai, about 250 kilometres north of Yellowknife.
High grade diamonds were eventually found and the company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Fipke retired from that job in 1993.
He and his wife, Ava, returned to the Okanagan region, where they designed and built estates in Kelowna, Big White and at Buck Lake Ranch.
His brother retired to Kentucky and is now in the Thoroughbred business with a dream of one day raising a Triple Crown winner.
Fipke yearned to return to ranch life. He had always liked cattle and bought the Buck Lake Ranch in 2004 near Peachland. It was homesteaded in 1906, but the years had taken their toll.
“The place was dilapidated, but it was a beautiful location,” he said.
He and his family cleaned the place up, hired some help and restocked it with 200 cows.
He had always admired the work Hereford breeder Grant Hirsche did with his specialty butcher shop and wanted to start a beef program of his own.
Fipke started supplying a couple specialty butchers, and the initial response was good. However, butchers soon complained they wanted AAA beef.
“The butchers told me this meat is single A and not marbled properly,” he said.
“It was tender enough but it was not what they wanted.”
He could not guarantee AAA and did not want to develop a bad reputation for delivering inconsistent product. It became an intellectual exercise for him to study pedigrees and the science of beef quality so that he could produce more AAA carcasses.
He had built up a commercial herd of 500 cows and started turning them into a purebred Angus herd of 250.
“The belief in science, the belief in genetics, is what motivates me,” he said.
“My ideal was to create a pool of genetics in which I could pretty well have developed the highest marbling, the highest rib eye, highest yearling weight and moderate birth weight and have the perfect bull.”
Fipke studied cattle’s statistics and performance and performed ultrasounds. He started buying cattle from breeders with a similar mindset who also collected statistics and worked on continuous improvement.
“You can have the greatest genetic potential on paper, but then the animal doesn’t quite produce,” he said.
“Every analysis that is possible, I’m doing it.”
He said more breeders need to do this because it will improve marketing opportunities and create a better commercial herd.
“If you have not got the numbers, then you are at a disadvantage,” he said.
“If you want to compete, (you need) bulls that are measured and proven to be capable of giving off traits that you can count on.”
However, time got the better of him and he realized he was going to have to disperse the herd.
Ava has a successful perennial plant business, and she wanted him to slow down as she edged toward retirement.
A few health problems and a desire to spend more time with his family of four adult children, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild finalized the decision.
His dispersal was held Nov. 23 at the Calgary Stockyards in Strathmore. He chose the Alberta market because of the larger customer base. The Okanagan Valley has few cattle customers because of the changes that have occurred there.
“Ten years ago when I started there were 20 ranches with cattle in my area. There are now three,” he said.
BSE took its toll in the southern region and the land has become too expensive to farm.
Selling the purebreds does not mean Fipke is leaving the ranch: he plans to keep a small commercial herd of 150 cows.
The ranch comprises 680 acres and an adjacent crown range of 77,000 acres. It boasts ample water in 17 lakes and numerous streams as well as a large producing aquifer that yields three million gallons a day.
The ranch will continue, albeit at a quieter pace. He highly recommends a new agriculture career later in life, when middle aged people who have made money elsewhere can return to their roots while they still have the time and stamina to make it work.
“A lot of people grew up on ranches, so come on back,” he said.