By BRYAN PAINTER OK Dept. of Agriculture
WASHINGTON — Most people are familiar with the catch-all phrase, “other duties as assigned.” Jaynie Dowdle thinks it may have been in her wedding vows and she just didn’t hear it at the time.
Jaynie Staggs met Greg Dowdle on Main Street in Purcell. However, when they married on Dec. 5, 1975, he took his bride to his family’s farm where they raised alfalfa, wheat and cattle.
Jaynie wasn’t altogether a rookie when it came to agriculture.
Her father worked at John Deere as a diesel mechanic, and he and her mom Sue Calvert Staggs had a milk cow and twin goats. They kept a large garden where Dowdle spent countless hours hoeing, picking vegetables and shucking corn. She and her siblings were also involved in 4-H and FFA and she didn’t mind going out with her grandfather to help feed cattle.
Still, when the Dowdles married 43 years ago, production agriculture for Jaynie went from being an acquaintance to a significant part of her life – and for that she is extremely thankful.
Determined to succeed
“I learned to drive tractors, bale hay, work cattle, fix fence and all the other jobs a farmer’s wife needs to know how to do,” she said. “One day I took the small baler home and Greg told me to park it in the shed. The shed was just big enough for two balers parked side by side with about a foot on each side. I had never backed a baler and I worked for over an hour trying to back that baler in the barn. I was crying and upset, but I kept trying till I finally got it. After that I can back up anything you ask me to.”
Two years after marrying, the Dowdles became farming and ranching partners with her father-in-law and purchased 350 acres where Greg had lived all his life. They moved into the house where he grew up, slowly made it their own, and still live there today.
“We hauled our own hay and hired hands to help us,” she said. “My job was to drive the truck. We had a pop-up loader we hooked to the side and I would drive as they hauled the hay.”
By the time their first daughter, Brooke, was born in 1980 they were raising baby calves and that’s how they bought their first car.
“We continued to raise baby calves buying them from local dairies, and, growing our herd,” she said. “Our second daughter Mindy, was born in 1982. Two weeks after she was born we took the girls with us to haul hay. I put them both in the seat with me. They slept, while Greg and I hauled hay all night.”
They continued to farm with their daughters by their side, and Brooke learned to drive a hay truck when she was 7 years old.
“Greg would put the truck in low gear and she would steer,” Dowdle said. “They learned to drive tractors and helped us do all the chores on the farm.”
In 1990, Greg’s dad bought a 120 acre farm north of Washington. The day he made the deal he drove over to tell Jaynie and Greg.
“That farm was a lot of work,” she said. “It was all cropland and we planted alfalfa on it. The first year it froze on October 31 and the alfalfa froze out. That was a tough year. “
They planted alfalfa the next year and it grew quite well.
“We bought a mid-size baler that year,” she said. “We could handle more hay with less people. Our girls would stack the hay bales in the field and load the trucks and trailers. Our life was so busy. We also harvested wheat. We would graze cattle and then harvest it for grain. My job was driving the grain truck in and unloading grain.”
Chapters of this hand-in-hand walk with agriculture continued to write themselves.
In 1996, they rented a 200 acre farm, north of Washington, where they planted alfalfa.
“The landlord had never planted hay and wanted us to help him learn,” she said. “The rows were a mile long. It would take us a week to cut the hay and bale the hay and get it up. That was truly a family affair.”
Dowdle had come to learn agriculture, not only hands on, but hearts on. She loved and respected it and the people of the industry, as well.
So, in 1998, she had the opportunity as a female farmer to be the minority advisor on the McClain County Committee at the Farm Service Agency in Purcell. One day at a meeting Mike Leverett , the County Executive Director, was saying how busy they were and needed some temporary help.
“I said, ‘I could come and help,’ and the next day I went to work as a temporary employee,” she said. “I became a permanent employee in 2000, and this October was my 18th year to work for the Farm Service Agency. This job has truly been a blessing for us. The steady income and the insurance are two things that we never had. I enjoy working with the farmers and I can relate to the problems they encounter with the weather and other issues they encounter on the farm.”
Today, the Dowdles own and operate 762 acres of land. Jaynie still helps out on their place as needed.
That love for agriculture has made its way to the following generations. Brooke and husband Richard Walkup, and their three daughters, live on 225 acres that the Dowdles own south of Washington.
“We inherited this land from my parents when my dad passed away in 2000,” Jaynie Dowdle said. “It is all grass and we run cattle there with them.”
Mindy and husband Justin Hewett and their three sons live on 50 acres that Jaynie and Greg own a mile down the road from their place.
In addition to her other on and off-farm activities, Jaynie Dowdle teaches a first and second grade Sunday School class at Union Hill Baptist Church and she has a quilting business – Farm Fresh Quilting designs – with her daughters.
A tornado plus a drought
Who knew that “others duties as assigned” in this life would include bouncing back from a large tornado and a historic drought.
Jaynie recalls May 24, 2011 when a devastating EF-4 tornado hit their farm.
A report by the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast office, said, “It should be noted that this tornado had estimated winds up to 200 mph at times, falling just short of the damage indicator for an EF-5 tornado.”
The Dowdles lost three barns, the roofs of their shop, a dairy barn, miles of fence and their home sustained damaged that was later repaired.
“That was a trying time for us,” she said. “That same year in the fall we had to make the hard decision of selling our cattle due to drought. We had no hay, no water and no pasture. We felt defeated. We missed our cows so much. They were part of our daily lives. We had to work hard to build our herd and now we had to sell them.”
Time passed and the skies mercifully yielded rains once again.
“We began to buy cattle back after a couple of years,” she said. “Now we run about 40 mama cows and calves and are glad to back in the cow business.”
Who knows what “other duties” life will bring, but Jaynie is certain that, “Farming is hard work, but it is good work.”
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.