Anyone wondering where famed San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson has been hiding out while on the disabled list should check Santa Rosa attorney Paul Miller's chicken coop.
He's got a Brian Wilson there. And an Elmo, a Henry and two other hens — Geo and Milli — all named by his 3-year-old son, who apparently overlooked that they're all female.
These chickens are more than egg layers to Miller's family of four, though their eggs — some a pale, green-blue — are much enjoyed.
They're family pets, playmates for Miller's young son and sidekicks to the family Lab, Emma.
"Aren't they pretty?" Miller asked, admiring his multi-colored flock as he served them table scraps and squirming, black soldier fly larvae. "And they all have different personalities."
Miller is among hundreds of city residents who have fueled a local boom in hen-keeping, reflecting a robust interest in homegrown foods and a recognition of hens as sociable companions.
The problem is that backyard chickens are illegal in most parts of the city.
Still, "People just can't get enough of them," said John "J.P." Pellham, poultry expert at Santa Rosa's Western Farm Center, which routinely sells out its supply of baby chicks and young chickens, called pullets.
Pellham said he sells 6,000 to 8,000 baby chicks a season, and last March sold all 700 or so chicks in his first shipment over a single weekend.
The 43 pullets that arrived at the Railroad Square-area store last Saturday sold within 48 hours, he said.
"I think there's well over 1,000 families in Santa Rosa probably have them," Pellham said.
Fans cite a host of benefits, everything from delicious, fresh eggs to natural insect control, table scrap disposal and the hens' funny, sometimes affectionate behavior. Parents love having their kids involved in raising the birds.
"They're very soothing for me," one chicken fan named Tom said as he perused Western Farm Center's poultry area early this week. "They're like pets."
"It's kind of a throwback to the way homes used to be," Miller said. "We raise a lot of our own vegetables. Now we get our own eggs. We can make a dinner with almost everything (coming) from our back yard."
Most cities in Sonoma County, save Rohnert Park, have some provisions permitting residents to raise backyard hens. But under the current Santa Rosa zoning and animal keeping ordinances, having chickens is prohibited except in those few neighborhoods zoned "rural residential."
City Council members soon may vote to change that. They'll be asked Sept. 18 to approve new regulations legalizing backyard hens and setting the terms under which they can be kept.
A ban on roosters and any chickens raised for commercial use.
Limits on the number of hens permitted, depending on lot size (three for 5,000 square feet or less and six for up to 10,000 square feet, for instance).
Minimum setbacks to the property line and neighboring homes (5 or 10 feet from the property line, and at least 20 feet to the closest dwelling).
Requirements that the hens have coops in securely fenced, backyard enclosures maintained in a clean condition that discourages rats and other pests.
Demand has been building for a change to the rules, but it wasn't until Oakmont Senior Living Communities applied a year ago for an amendment to the zoning code — and footed the estimated $8,500 bill for research, staff review and the like — that city planners got working on one.