OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND FORESTRY
2800 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4912
PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 19, 2018
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Betty Thompson, 405-522-6105, email@example.com
Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture
By: Kaylee Travis
ANTLERS – When Cairl Collins was a stubborn toddler, it took an orphan calf to break her of her bottle.
“He [grandpa Bill D. Bruce] told me if I’d give that calf my bottle I could have that heifer, so at a very young age I got introduced to the cattle business,” Collins laughed.
Sixty-seven years later, not much has changed. She’s had cattle ever since.
“My cattle have been, I guess you could say, my first joy, always,” she said.
Collins grew up in Pushmataha County on a farm and ranch where she learned the value of hard work.
“I had to get up early enough to cook breakfast,” she said, “and then I had to milk three cows and take the milk to the house and strain it and put it in the refrigerator before I ever got on the bus. I got up at like 5 in the morning, so I did half a day’s work for a lot of people before I ever left for school.”
She recalls plowing the fields with mules, tying bales of hay up by hand with wire, and pulling ears of corn by hand because they did not have a combine.
“Everything was either done with a team of mules, behind a wagon, or by hand,” she said. “I can remember I was the one that always got what they call a down row, which is the one that went under the wagon, so you had to do all the stooping and the bending to break the ears off the corn and throw them up in the wagon.”
Collins was about 10 years old when her dad, Grover Bruce, bought his first tractor, but the family continued working with mules until she was grown. Her dad also had the first peanut thrasher in area, so she spent a lot of time harvesting peanuts.
“We went from farm to farm to farm to thrash peanuts,” she said. “Everybody kind of synchronized their fields so that they wouldn’t all come off at one time, and that way we could take the peanut thrasher from field to field in this area to thrash peanuts.”
It was a community effort, and everyone joined in on their hands and knees to harvest, shake and turn the peanuts out to dry.
“When we got off that school bus, we had to go to the field and start working,” she said.
Collins also remembers when electricity arrived and her family “got modern.”
“I was in the second grade, and I remember coming in on that school bus. And I thought, ‘What are those guys doing planting those big, long, black trees? They’re not going to grow. They don’t have any branches on them.’ You know this second grader. Then they came back and put the T cross on them at the top to hold the wires, and that puzzled me. Then it wasn’t too long after that then that we went from using coal oil lamps for me to study by to one light bulb in the center of the kitchen table,” she said.
Collins has come a long ways since her childhood of wagons, mules and working by hand. She has plenty of equipment and bales hay for herself and others with the help of her son, Donald Collins Jr.
Over the years she’s had 35 sows, 350 rabbits, 55 female breeding dogs, and goats for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, she has always had cattle. She runs a commercial cow-calf operation of more than 100 head on 500 acres.
“The day-to-day operations of the place here – I do it,” she said, pointing out the cattle belong to her completely.
She is the secretary treasurer of the Pushmataha, Atoka, and Choctaw Tri-County Cattlemen’s Association and was instrumental in the creation of the organization. She worked hard to find sponsorships and was able to incorporate an annual scholarship by the second year of the group’s existence. She is a 4-H leader and is heavily involved in FFA, helping with livestock shows and booster clubs. She teaches a Dutch oven cooking class, helps numerous softball and baseball teams, serves as the local cemetery caretaker, and has been involved with both the Pushmataha County and Soper Chambers of Commerce.
“It’s a lot of activities, and somehow or another I got in the middle of all this,” she laughed.
Collins was a nurse aid, medical assistant aid and a physical therapy aid for more than 20 years, specializing in patients with Alzheimer’s, diabetes, disabilities and amputations. She is currently a first responder and a volunteer fireman.
A Calf for Christmas
Two Decembers ago, one of Collins’ cows had a set of twins. Unfortunately, one was small and weak. With cold, wet weather approaching, Collins decided the small calf had to come inside the house for the night.
“I went back and finished feeding the cows after I got that calf to the house,” she said. “… And I come back to the house, and that little calf was under the Christmas tree.”
Collins says it is the little things about agriculture that make it worthwhile.
“I don’t care how deep the snow is, how hard the rain is,” she said. “My cattle are going to get fed. They’re going to get taken care of.”
She is certainly dedicated to her cattle, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have shown interest in agriculture too, showing livestock and caring for bottle calves. One of her grandchildren, Jracee Ayers, 16, has even started her own herd of 10 cows and three bulls.
“I’ve got those grandbabies started with the animals,” she said. “When they come to my house, they want to get in that Ranger and us go see the cows.”
In 2006, Collins’ husband Don, a Vietnam veteran, had a stroke that partially paralyzed him and took away his speech. The two have now been married 49 years. Since the stroke, she has been taking care of him, and while she may have sold most of her animals, the cattle aren’t going anywhere, not while Collins is around anyway.
Even the red Brahmer cow that “doesn’t like men” and can’t be penned without Collins around is here to stay.
A couple years ago, her son said, “If something happens to you, that red Brahmer cow will be the first thing that goes.”
She replied with an ornery laugh, “You have to pen her first.”
Since then she has kept more of those red Brahmer cows on the place. Her cattle are her gift from God.
“In my lifetime, I can look back over my shoulder, and I can see one big set of footprints in the sand,” she said. “And it’s too big of shoes for me to fill. If I didn’t believe in God, that set of footprints wouldn’t be behind me … Somebody is carrying me.”
She continued, “I know if it wasn’t for that set of footprints, I would not have this farm. I would not have my cattle, and when I get the most aggravated … I get in the Ranger, and I go back and I see my babies.”
When she is in her Ranger surrounded by her calves, sticking their noses up and licking her hands, Cairl Collins is truly overjoyed.
“That’s my saving grace,” she said.
Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture. The project is a collaborative program between the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and Oklahoma State University to recognize and honor the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of industry professionals.
Photo caption: Cairl Collins of Antlers is being recognized as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture. She is shown here (second from left) with her husband Don (center) and their family.