black goat

Weed-Chomping Goats in Lab Coats? Weaver’s Ruminants Assist in Urban Farm Research

December 15, 2020

When Amanda Weaver pulled into a modest farmhouse in Wheat Ridge, she was simply looking to buy farm fresh eggs. But that serendipitous day in 2010 changed her life completely—and she bought the farm instead.

Amanda Weaaver in front of barn
Amanda Weaver, PhD, created a certificate program in sustainable urban agriculture in the GES Department at CU Denver.

From Geography PhD to Farming 101

At the time Weaver, PhD, a senior instructor in CU Denver’s Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences, was conducting research on urban farms for her doctoral thesis, examining the intricate laws behind conservation easements. She got to talking to Louise Turner, the elderly woman who owned the property, whose heirs were not interested in continuing to farm the land. As it happened, the farm had a conservation easement on it, in the middle of a stretch of Wheat Ridge dotted with churches, apartment complexes, and single-family homes. It was the type of urban land that Weaver had been researching for years.

Weaver had been dreaming up a scheme to move to the mountains and have goats, somewhere close enough to Denver where she’d still be able to commute for work. Yet here was a plot of land conserved for agriculture right in the heart of the metro area. Could she actually buy it? Maybe.

In 2018, Weaver was named the Countess of the Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival. The photo at bottom right displays the original sign that got her to stop at the farm.

At Age 40, Weaver Becomes a “Young Farmer”

Because of Weaver’s interest in the subject and her desire to keep the farm’s agricultural roots intact, Louise agreed to sell her the property, and she generously allowed Weaver to purchase it in installments. Now called Five Fridges Farm, the 13-acre property includes a farmhouse, commercial kitchen, and multiple barns, as well as open space bordering Lena Gulch.

Weaver found herself in a quandary: She was getting her doctoral degree in geography and had little practical knowledge of agricultural work. In fact, at age 40, she was what the industry calls a “Young Farmer.” She would need to figure out what to farm and how to do it. And she wanted to use the farm as a community resource and educational opportunity.

Ultimately, Weaver created the certificate program in sustainable urban agriculture within the Geography & Environmental Studies Department where she teaches. CU Denver GES students can use her farm as a field study location to conduct research. Students can also tour the farm as individuals or on class field trips (this is more complicated by social distancing guidelines, but Weaver welcomes farm inquiries via email).

But back when she started farming, she quickly got into trouble with the city of Wheat Ridge. The problem? Weeds. In her attempt to reinvigorate the soil, which had been overgrazed by horses, she had let the back of the farm grow wild—too wild for the likes of some of her neighbors. Some simply thought the tall weeds were ugly, but other area residents thought those weeds were responsible for allergy attacks.

goat collage
“The girls” at Five Fridges Farm provide milk that Weaver uses to make yogurt, cheese, soaps, and lotions.

Weeds—a Blessing in Disguise!

The overgrown flora turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Weaver devised a solution that controlled the weeds, improved the soil, and generated community involvement. She contacted a well-known Colorado goat herder named Lani Malmberg (aka The Goat Lady) and rented a herd of 350 Kashmiri goats (the Clydesdales of goats), large wild creatures with twisting horns, two-coated fleece, and a voracious appetite. Weaver organized a parade, and residents lined the road to see the goats being herded to her weedy property by intrepid border collies.

The parade was a great success, and the Kashmiri goats ate their way through everything in a matter of a month. People were sad to see the wild-pupiled animals go. They were such a public relations success that Weaver decided to train some of her own La Mancha goats to eat weeds. Because, in spite of the popular conception, goats won’t eat just anything, especially if they’ve been raised on a diet of scrumptious alfalfa. “It’s like going from eating bon bons to eating porridge,” Weaver said.

Weaver’s goat-expert friend suggested she take some of the male kids and put them out back toward the creek so they’d get accustomed to eating weeds. For goats, there is a definite benefit to being female. The milk-producing nanny goats get to feast on alfalfa, while the male goats get whatever is on the lot.

photo of turkeys, chickens, and Weaver with her dog Eva
Other residents at Five Fridges Farm include turkeys, chickens, and a rescue dog named Eva Perón.

Male Goats Eat Their Way Through Wheat Ridge

When her herd was ready, Weaver contracted with Wheat Ridge Parks & Recreation Department to have her goats clean up area parks. They’re now contracted out on gustatory expeditions—eating all sorts of invasive weeds, including goatheads, which have thumbtack-like burs that puncture bare feet and bicycle tires; poison oak, which causes itchy rashes; and teasle, which is so invasive it can choke out native plants.

Weaver’s goats are currently on assignment. Working for about seven months of the year, they provide a valuable service to area parks: eradicating weeds (in the most eco-friendly way) while aerating the land. Additionally, people love goats. “They really are like dogs,” Weaver said. Curious and independent, goats have a lot of personality.

All of Weaver’s goats have names that reflect her relationship with them and tell a story. Buttercup, for example, is obviously a lovely lady with yellow fur. When the boys go out to work, Weaver puts a name tag on each goat, and some people develop relationships with them and have their favorites. “Sometimes when I move goats, I get calls about how much people miss them. It’s always a very sad day when they go.”