by Bryan Painter
Jill DeRusha wears her hands-on love for agriculture with pride.
Before the sun has snuck a peek at the new day in southwestern Oklahoma, the 60-year-old who lives northwest of Mangum in the Jester/Willow Community, is out at the barn feeding. Depending on the day, she’s checking to see if heifers are calving. She’s checking water on the places with no ponds. She’s running after parts for the machinery. She’s making sure everyone has lunch and that the paperwork is filled out for the Farm Service Agency office. She’s checking on markets for cattle and crops, and selling crops “when appropriate.” She’s feeding hay to cattle and, when time permits, she’s mowing the yard.
So by the end of the day, DeRusha is always wearing her love for ag not only in her heart, but on her button down shirt and blue jeans.
“On any given day, I can have manure, hay, dirt and grease on me somewhere,” DeRusha said.
She and husband Randy raise cattle, cotton, wheat, alfalfa and some milo. They’ve had roughly 2,000 acres of cotton in recent years. They also have 350 mama cows. They own some acres and lease the rest.
DeRusha said, “We have a sign that says, ‘Jill Ranches, DeRusha Farms.’ That sums up our roles around the place. I can operate most of the machinery, but Randy is who keeps it running and in good shape. I take care of the cattle and he helps with them when needed.”
When DeRusha says she checks on her cattle, that doesn’t mean she’s simply counting them. She knows her mama cows – and the reason for that dates back more than 50 years.
“My granddad would take me everywhere with him,” she said. “He taught me to tell one cow from another. He would say, ‘Just look at their faces or look at them closely. That’s ole curly face, that’s short tail.’ To this day, I don’t tell my 350 mama cows by an ear tag. They all look different or have different personalities.”
DeRusha firmly believes agriculture has shaped her entire life.
“I think the way of life on the farm or ranch teaches a person to deal with everyday living in a positive way,” said DeRusha who’s quick to point out that their ag operation is four generations deep. “One learns there are many different paths to reach a goal or complete a task.”
The well-known drought in the 1950s ended the year Jill DeRusha was born, 1957. However, Jill and Randy found themselves right in the middle of the historic drought that sank its teeth into Oklahoma less than a decade ago.
“One of worst times we have faced was the drought of 2010-2011,” she said. “We had to decide whether or not to hold on to our cattle. We kept all but the 50 head and sold those. We fed hay. We hauled water. Every other day, I hauled a little over 3,000 gallons of water. It paid off, because when it rained and the grass came back we didn’t have to buy all the cattle back that we needed.”
It was a lesson of life, of carrying on, to pass along to family, regardless of their professions. Between them, they have five children. Her daughter Jaclyn and son-in-law Trey Christensen live in Oklahoma City, daughter Kelsey and son-in-law Kelby Merz live in Elk City, and son Kolby Miller and daughter-in-law McKenzie live in Oklahoma City. TaShina DeRusha lives in Somerville, Tenn., and Jared DeRusha lives in Dallas.
Jill and Randy have six grandchildren.
“I’m thrilled that the fifth generation loves coming to visit us at the farm,” DeRusha said. “I am so proud of our family.”
Always a part of her life
DeRusha’s parents, Jimmy and the late Joyce (Wheeler) Heatly, were partners in the family farming and ranching operation which included a cow-calf operation, cotton, wheat and hay.
The first tractor DeRusha drove was a Massey Ferguson 65. She was in second grade.
“I could jump across the width of the plow, so you didn’t seem to get much accomplished in a day’s time,” she said. “I loved the cattle part of the family business the most and my brother Jack would rather be on some piece of machinery, so it worked well. We learned teamwork was always the best way to get things done and that hard work usually pays off.”
Through 4-H and FFA their family traveled near and far showing cattle.
“It taught us more about hard work and responsibility for our animals, as well as sportsmanship and competition,” DeRusha said. “Through 4-H I grew to love Oklahoma State University. While there I was the Agriculture Queen, and even won the wild cow milking contest.”
She finished in the top 10 in the “Ag college.” That college experience only deepened her love for agriculture and she went on to work in the OSU Extension Service at the county level as an Ag Agent. She was a pacesetter in that regard.
She uses that knowledge and experience daily in their ag operation.
Knowing a little about a lot
Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” includes a heartfelt description of just some of what is required of a farmer and rancher.
“I love Paul Harvey’s poem, ‘So God Made a Farmer,’ and it is on our wall,” DeRusha said.
Why does she love it? Because she believes that in agriculture you not only have to be determined, you have to be flexible.
“I think farmers and ranchers wear many different hats and I have worn a lot of them,” she said. “I love the spring or fall when the weather is cool. We calve both spring and fall and I love seeing the calves running around their mothers. I love the smell of fresh cut alfalfa hay and the sound of rain on the roof is music to my ears.”
So whether it’s mud, manure or grease that she has on her shirt and jeans at the end of the day, DeRusha will be found wearing every bit of it with pride.