By Babs Rodriguez
Photos by Meda Kessler
A New York horse trainer and a Boston businessman invested their family’s happiness in an urban farm. Llamas and ice cream were a bonus.
The barn cats make a serpentine circuit of the room as the leader evaluates a visitor’s shoe with a disdainful side-eye. Curiosity has led the felines into a family room with a New England country house vibe created by squishy leather furniture and a gallery wall of equestrian-themed artwork.
Homeowner Ashley Bostrom Tatum introduces the kitties by name, settles a wriggly pair of smiling dogs and adjusts infant daughter Ophelia’s pacifier without losing the thread of a tale that begins with meeting her now husband at a bar on Martha’s Vineyard. That’s when the New Yorker — summering at her grandmother’s place while working at an art gallery — and the Boston financier visiting for a wedding began the journey to ownership of a Keller hobby farm, a Southlake ice cream shop and a full-contact “petting” zoo.
“After we started dating, John wanted me to move to Boston, but I was a New Yorker. And he was never going to move there. So, when he got a job offer in Southlake, I imagined my name on an envelope with a Texas address and that seemed pretty cool.” The move would allow the lifelong equestrian to expand her horse training business, too.
Married for 10 years, the Tatums now have five children, all of whom share mom’s love of horses — and every other animal. During our first visit, Colton, 9, Vivian, 7, and Georgina, 4, are at school. Three-year-old Clayton whips through the family home on his trike, while tiny 2-month-old Ophelia sleeps in her mama’s lap. “I always have preemies,” Ashley says, “and every time I am pregnant, I foster a pregnant dog.” Molly, who can open all the doors in the house, waddles in on cue.
John says he could never deny his pregnant wife’s wish to save puppies while gestating her own babies, but it’s clear he shares her affection for their growing fur-feather-fluff family, too. Horses as part of their life was a given, but he hadn’t foreseen leaving their Timarron golf course home eight years ago for 11 acres so overgrown that a house and barn on the property were difficult to see. The resident llamas, however, were clearly visible.
John made a handshake deal while standing behind his truck with the property owner, who had long refused a sale to anyone who planned to raze the house or develop the land. She offered to relocate the sweet-faced camelids, but Ashley, then pregnant with Vivian, had fallen for the creatures she likens to “friendly deer.” Four of the original herd still roam the property, and Ashley, having studied their care and feeding, manages a successful breeding program.
As the Tatum family grew, so did the count of chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, bunnies and potbellied pigs at Back-A-Bit Farm, named in homage to a New York property owned by Ashley’s grandfather. But it was the arrival of a cow that led the Tatums down a new path.
An avid animal rescuer, Ashley couldn’t say no to Bambi, a bottle-fed calf separated too soon from its mama.
In a one-two punch of grief, the day before the Holstein was scheduled to be put down, Ashley’s dad — her parents had relocated to Texas — died of a heart attack. “I came home and told Bambi, ‘You can’t die, too.’ ” Noting the calf’s wheezing, Ashley enlisted the kids to help wrangle Bambi into the family bath for a steam treatment. Ashley saw the cow’s subsequent return to health and a serendipitous opportunity to buy a Southlake ice cream shop as her father’s doing. “I feel like it was my dad who got Bambi through. And he always teased me about my having to have dessert.”
In October, the Tatums celebrated the first anniversary of buying the locally founded shop, beloved since 2007 for the high-butterfat deliciousness of its product (the source of the small-batch, single-churned cream remains a secret). Rebranded as the Back-A-Bit Farm Creamery, the shop’s mascot is, of course, Bambi. “It was all meant to be,” Ashley says.
While the emergency spa treatment for Bambi took place unbeknownst to John, it’s likely he would have been unphased to find a cow in his shower. When Ashley decided to rescue Bambi, he’d loaded the ailing calf into the backseat of his SUV along with the four kids. “It was the craziest thing I’d ever done,” he says.
A running joke among Ashley and the kids is that the number of animals they are raising must never be revealed to Daddy. “John’s office windows are on the front of the property, where he has built a scrimmage field for Colt’s football team,” Ashley says. “He doesn’t need to see what’s going on out back.”
But clearly the former city guy is more than a little into the hobby-farm lifestyle his family enjoys on the rolling and wooded property now doubled in size. “This is all Ashley’s vision,” he says, as we load into a golf cart with John at the wheel and baby Ophelia in the crook of his arm. Between a stop at the goat paddock and the pigpen, he says, “It really is a fantastic way for kids to grow up.”
Photos of the family’s menagerie that hang on the walls at Back-A-Bit Farm Creamery (and some personal appearances) created a buzz that led to the family opening their property to tours. But the increasing number of visitors soon inspired the Tatums to launch another business. Back-A-Bit Farm Boarding Stables opened Nov. 1 (at the former Texas Star Stables location) as a petting zoo and farm school offering lessons on the natural world, animal husbandry and farm life for children in small groups of like ages. Petting zoo visitors can pick up after, groom and run with farm animals. Birthday parties are on offer, too.
Enough animals will stay put at the home farm — including the llamas and Bambi — to keep the Tatum children busy with chores as well as entertained. Asked how it all works, John says that Ashley’s philosophy of “keep it simple” means they don’t sweat the small stuff, from mud on the floors to the occasional scribble on the wall. He is clearly happy with the results. “None of my Boston friends would have ever imagined me living this way, on 25 acres with five kids and countless animals. We were living in a golf club paradise,” he says with a laugh, “and we literally bought the farm.”