PARIS – Will tourists soon see flocks of baaing sheep at the Eiffel Tower and bleating ewes by Notre Dame cathedral?
That could be the case, since Paris City Hall this week installed a small flock of sheep to mow the lawn at the city's gardens, replacing gas-guzzling lawnmowers.
Four woolly ewes — shipped in from an island off the Brittany coast — are currently munching the grass surrounding Paris Archives building. The number of sites doing that could expand from October in and around Paris.
The ovine-operation follows a successful stint last year by two goats that were hired privately by the Louvre to mow the lawn at Tuileries, central Paris' grand 17th-century gardens.
Motorless and independent, the four-legged workers contentedly munch day and night — oblivious of the France's strict 35-hour work week.
A similar experiment in a park outside Paris even found that sheep droppings were a benefit, bringing swallows back to the area.
"It might sound funny, but animal lawnmowers are ecological as no gasoline is required, and cost half the price of a machine," said Marcel Collet, Paris farm director. "And they're so cute."
Paris City Hall, meanwhile, has big ambitions for its sheep. "I can imagine this very easily in London and New York ... even Tokyo," said Fabienne Giboudeaux, Paris City Hall's director of Green Spaces. "And why not have them at the Eiffel Tower?"
The City Hall initiative was inspired by a handful of private French companies that have been hiring sheep and goat lawnmowers for quite some time.
Alain Divo is the director of one such company, Ecoterra, whose goats worked at the Tuileries last summer. He said having animal lawnmowers is great for biodiversity.
"We installed some at the Parc des Sceaux (a famous park outside Paris), where the swallow population had completely disappeared. Because the droppings attract small insects, the swallows all came back in two years," he said.
Parisians who cringe at the sight of poop may worry that sheep droppings could ruin their pristine City of Light. But Divo said goat and sheep poop crumbles away in days to an odorless, inoffensive powder that serves as potent fertilizer for the grass.
Another company known as Ecomouton, (Ecosheep in English), currently has 260 sheep working the premises of top companies such as Gaz de France. Ecomouton plans to expand that number to more than 600 sheep by the end of 2013.
Its director, Sylvain Girard, said he's surprised by the initiative's success, with interest coming in from countries such as the Britain, Germany, Belgium and Russia.
He's said the idea came to him by chance.
"I have a company myself with lawn, and I was always running about after the guy who was meant to mow the lawn. One day I just thought: 'What if I just put in sheep?'" said Girard. "It was a bit of a wacky idea, but it worked."
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP