A typical day for Mike Mechanbier begins at 3 a.m. He’ll begin with bailing hay, and go throughout the rest of the day performing various tasks until the evening. That kind of day is typical for the local farmer, developer and philanthropist, no matter if it’s a standard weekday or a weekend holiday — it’s a 24/7 job.
“Cattle don’t understand Christmas or birthdays,” Mechanbier joked.
Run by the Mechenbier family, Four Daughters Land and Cattle Co. has been a staple in central New Mexico for decades. Beginning with a pig farm in Albuquerque’s North Valley, they started from humble beginnings.
The urbanization of farmland in Albuquerque pushed the family south. In 1985, they stretched down to Valencia County and made a home in Los Lunas while still purchasing more farmland. Today, their farms stretch from Bernalillo to Socorro, providing a host of products to their customers — from pecans to beef — while giving back to their community.
“We’ve been extremely blessed,” said Mechanbier.
The name of the company comes from their family dynamic — two parents with four daughters. While they have seen success with other crops and their cattle, the Mechenbiers are constantly trying to figure out what new products they can provide. Mike explained that water is a precious resource in New Mexico. As more places become urbanized, many farms are competing with cities for water. The goal with pecans is to make agriculture more economical.
“I don’t know if our pecans will be the answer, but they can be much higher-value crop,” said Mechanbier.
They have seen some success with their pecans despite some setbacks. Last year, their crops were hit by a hailstorm. However, that hailstorm ultimately led to a better crop this year. Mechanbier said that kind of thing can be typical in farm life, and one can throw in the towel when faced with an obstacle.
“That’s one thing about farm life,” he said. “You can’t give it up after a year; you’re in it for a lifetime.”
Weather can be a challenge for many farmers. The hail storm was not the first obstacle the Mechenbiers’ farms have faced, and it certainly will not be the last. The family patriarch joked that working on a farm in analogous to going to Las Vegas, meaning that both can be a gamble and the outcome is unpredictable. Negative outcomes can be caused by market changes or weather — two things that are almost entirely out of the farmer’s control.
Emily, Mike’s youngest daughter who runs the pecan farm, said faith is very important when they’re faced with such adversity. She pointed to the good pecan crop of this year as a result of the hail storm last year. Her father agreed, saying some things that seem like curses can actually be a blessing.
“(Farming) is one of those things where you can be standing on your back porch and watch everything you work for go way in five minutes,” said Emily. “And it’s not by your doing. You can do everything perfect, and it can go down …
“Our family is very religious, and if we didn’t have faith that it would work out in the end, we wouldn’t be farming,” she said. “I would have loved to have this crop last year, but at least there’s a silver lining. We’ll have a better crop this year because of it.”
Mechanbier said a lot of credit should be given to his wife, Kathy. Emily explained her mother did not grow up in an agricultural lifestyle, but she gravitated towards the animals and farm living quickly.
“A lot of our success has been due to Kathy’s support,” said Mike. “We both strongly value the agrarian lifestyle when raising children.”
Like many farm children, all four of the Mechenbier daughters — Jessica, Abby, Katie and Emily — helped on the farm while growing up. Their days consisted of getting up early to bail hay before heading off to school. Breakfast was not served until their animals were fed. The lifestyle led to a life-long love of farming. Each of them still works in the family business, and they have been able to cultivate their passion in their own families.
“We’re a family-owned business,” said Emily. “We’re not in it for the money. We’re farmers.”
Together, Kathy and Mike have provided an opportunity for an agrarian upbringing for kids who may not have that opportunity otherwise. They began El Ranchito de los Ninos, a foster home for siblings, in 2000. The home helps kids thrive in a farm setting as they learn how to care for a variety of animals while receiving individualized attention in their education. The home’s mission is to keep siblings together.
“You’ll never be able to fully replicate a home with two functional parents,” said Mike. “We give these kids the best education we can afford to. They’re really good kids.”
The Mechenbiers aren’t necessarily the only family involved in the farm. Several families work for them, some of them being multi-generational. Emily said three generations of one family work on the pecan farm, and that isn’t unusual.
“You don’t only hire one person,” said Emily. “You get the whole family.”
Mike agreed, and said the worker dynamic at the farms is something he takes pride in. With a low turnover — such as couple of employees being with the farm for more than two decades — a tight-knit atmosphere has been developed.
“A lot of it is family-oriented,” said Mike. “It’s more of a family of workers than it is a bunch of employees, and I’m proud of that.”
And that, perhaps, is one of the reasons that keeps the family business going. It’s the friends, the community, the family. It’s the life Mike grew up in, and he feels fortunate to have made a career of it.
“It’s more of a passion than a job,” he said. “Working at the farm or at the ranch, at the end of the day, you can turn around and see what you have accomplished. I don’t think you can be as tied into nature or God or anything else like that as an IT person.”