For at least 4,000 years, people have been growing food in this region. The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces tells this amazing story through interactive exhibits, demonstrations, oral histories, objects, and educational programs.
It’s a story of survival, ingenuity, and hope. It connects generations and weaves together people from various cultures that are uniquely New Mexico. We retrieve memories for some visitors, educate others, and provide a fun-filled day for everyone.
The idea of creating a museum to preserve New Mexico’s farming and ranching history came in the 1970s when the state’s Secretary of Agriculture at the time, William Stephens, and New Mexico State University’s President, Gerald Thomas, noticed that farming and ranching artifacts from New Mexico were finding their way to museums in other states. Over the years, the two men shared their vision with other interested parties.
A grassroots organization called the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Institute Foundation got things moving and the State of New Mexico eventually made the project part of the Office of Cultural Affairs, now the Department of Cultural Affairs. The dream finally became a reality in 1995 when construction began on a 47-acre site on the southeastern edge of Las Cruces. Construction crews completed the main building in 1997 and the Museum opened to the public in 1998. They added numerous outbuildings and livestock pens to the sprawling campus over the past 21 years.
The livestock are a big reason why the Museum is like no other, and the animals raised are of the highest quality. On the 20 acres south of the Tortugas Arroyo that runs through the property, the Museum features seven different breeds of beef cattle – Angus, Brahman, Brangus, Charolais, Corriente, Hereford, and Longhorn – as well as a Holstein dairy cow, horses, goats and a donkey. There also are two breeds of sheep (Navajo-Churro and Debouillet) and two types of goats (Boer and Angora).
American Alliance of Museum accreditation reviewers visited in 2016. The Museum’s livestock program impressed them. They referred to it as a “national model.”
All aspects of the Museum’s living collection program are excellent,” the reviewers said in their summary. “From our perspective, this aspect of the Museum is a regional and perhaps national model that is strengthened and supported by the knowledge and skill of the well-trained staff. The housing and care of the animals and the specific goals of the live animal collection and its public education and interpretive programs directly supports the mission of the institution.
There usually is anywhere from 60 to 80 head of cattle at the Museum. They are all registered. “We run the program as a pure-bred cattle operation,” said Livestock Manager Greg Ball. “We try to raise the best possible individuals that we can.”
Museum visitors can walk across the Historic Green Bridge to see the animals on their own, or take a cart ride with a docent. It’s not uncommon for guests to watch members of the livestock management staff on horseback, working with the animals. The venues on the South 20 include the Skaggs Dairy Barn, the Horse & Cattle Barn, the Sheep & Goat Barn, the Watering Place art sculpture, and the Greenhouse, where plants propagated at the Museum are sold to the public. Dozens of antique farm implements, including tractors, are displayed on the South 20 as well.
The Parade of Breeds is one of the Museum’s most popular programs. Visitors sit in shaded bleachers at the Round Pen while examples of each breed of beef cattle are brought in and their origin and unique characteristics are discussed.
Inside the Bruce King Building, named after New Mexico’s only three-term governor, who was also a rancher, the Museum rotates exhibits in the temporary galleries. There is always something new to present to return visitors. The more permanent space is the 20,000-square-foot Heritage Gallery. A sweeping, dramatic mural depicting ancient agriculture welcomes visitors. Additionally, the early agriculture section of the gallery features a replicated Mogollon pit house. The overall theme of this enormous part of the Museum is to send the visitors back in time. There are four major structures inside the gallery currently, three of which can be entered.
New Mexico Colonial Home
The New Mexico Colonial Home is the centerpiece of the Spanish Colonial section of the gallery. New Mexico’s Spanish Colonial period was from 1598, when the Spanish settled in the region, to 1821. More specifically, the time period for the home is 1815. Like the other structures in the gallery, Home Sweet Home and the Mercantile, the New Mexico Colonial Home is an exhibition. The museum encourages visitors to walk through, giving them the opportunity to step back in time.
The home is made of adobe plaster and wood; posts, vigas, latillas, corbels and lintels. The structure has an authentic, traditional look. It includes two rooms – a living room and courtyard, or placita. Additionally, the living room features a fireplace, a baby cradle, furniture and traditional wares, and the courtyard has an horno oven, grain chest, tools and replica items. The artifacts and features of the New Mexico Colonial Home are based on archaeological information from excavations, wills, and inventories from the late 1700s to 1800s.
On the east end of the gallery, it’s not unusual to see a couple of people playing checkers inside the Mercantile exhibit, a recreated general store. When Museum visitors walk into the Mercantile, they are stepping back into an early 1900s version of what has become the mega retail store of the current times.
Demonstrations, Education Programs and Tours
Education is an important part of their mission and learning comes with plenty of fun for all ages at the Museum. They designed programs to meet the needs of specific audiences throughout the state. These include school groups, teachers, children, adults, families, and organizations.
The Museum is a popular choice for field trips and group tours, whether it’s children from an elementary school or adults from an RV club. Docents lead the tours. Depending on the day and time, most group tours include tractor-pulled trolley rides to see the livestock. Some of the demonstrations include a visit to the blacksmith shop, as well as quilting, sewing, weaving, and wool spinning (depending on the day).
Workshops for adults and craft activities for children are scheduled throughout the year. The Museum’s summer camps for kids are popular. These themed camps include everything from outdoor cooking, to growing plants, to learning to be a cowboy or cowgirl.
The Culture Series in the Museum’s Theater is on the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. These historical presentations are free and feature speakers, authors or performers from throughout the state.
The staff does a lot of work away from the museum campus. Whether it’s visiting an area school or setting up activities or demonstrations at a fair, expo or festival, the Education Department reaches thousands of people each year from all corners of the state.
Special Events and Other Offerings
Annual events are a big hit at the Museum. For example, Antique Treasures Show is the last weekend in January. Cowboy Days is the first weekend of March each year. Blessing of the Fields is on May 15. Ice Cream Sunday is the third Sunday in July. Community Appreciation Day (free admission) is the third Saturday in August. And HomeGrown, a New Mexico Food Show & Gift Market, is the weekend before Thanksgiving every year.
The Eagle Ranch Mercantile and Snack Bar, featuring Heart of the Desert pistachios, wine, and other products is an important part of any visit. The Museum is also a favorite spot for catered events, such as weddings, parties, banquets, conference, and meetings. There are two large rooms for catering, two smaller rooms, a theater, and outdoor spaces such as the Courtyard and the Heritage Garden.
For children, the Museum has two outdoor playgrounds and an indoor play area. Most of the exhibits feature some type of interactive element for kids.
- The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum welcomed visitors from all 50 states and 11 foreign countries over the course of a 12-month period in 2016-17.
- The Museum has more than 11,000 objects in its collection. The largest is the Historic Green Bridge, donated by Lincoln County and reassembled across the Tortugas Arroyo on the Museum’s property in 2007.
- The unofficial mascot of the Farm & Ranch Museum is a great-horned owl that roosts above the front doors.
- The Museum is a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums.
Monday through Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM
Sunday 12 PM – 5 PM
$5 for adults
$4 for senior citizens
$3 for children ages 4 to 17
$2 for active U.S. military members and veterans.
Children 3 and under, and members of the Museum Friends receive free admission.