SALINAS, Calif. -

As many as 1,200 sheep have been working hard at Fort Ord this year, grazing along part of the former military base.

Grazing sheep here provide a dual purpose - for the sheep owners, it providers their flock with food. But it also serves to help mitigate potential fire risk as the animals eat down tall grasses. Think of them as more environmentally-friendly lawnmowers.

The sheep can each eat anywhere from two to three pounds of grass per day.

The animals also are being used as an educational tool for students and teachers at Toro Park Elementary School.

"It's really neat for the kids to know about the importance of the sheep eating down the grasses, and how the sheep make a difference for where we are," said Kimi Kato, a second-grade teacher at Toro Park.

This is the second year the federal Bureau of Land Management has teamed up with the school to give students an up close and personal view of the sheep.

Last year, about 2,500 sheep were brought to the former fort, but this year's lack of rain has meant less grass for the sheep to eat.

Typically, the animals will roam the Fort Ord area beginning in January and staying until July, but the lack of rain and dry grass will likely shorten this year's stay.