Chicago outdoor enclosure help

rowanzdz

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Dec 1, 2023
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Chicago, IL
Hi, my name is Rowan and I have a 12 year old male red foot name Torti! He’s been with me since we were both little and we’ve grown up together! I’m currently in the Chicago burbs and I’m looking to build an outdoor enclosure in my parents back yard!

Usually Torti lives with me at college in a 6x2 galvanized steel tractor supply stock tank with a greenhouse cover over it. I know that it’s not enough space but it’s the best I can do during the winter for now. My dream is to move somewhere further south and have him live outside full time! I had some questions about building the enclosure and I was looking for some tips!



  1. Size: what is a good size enclosure for him? I know the larger the better but I wanted a range of what most people do
  2. Most of the lumber near me is pine which I know is unsafe for tortoises. What do you recommend?
  3. Predators: I have three large dobermans who love to jump. They have a dog run in the side yard that they access through the deck doors and stairs. I’ve attached a chart in the image below for reference (excuse my terrible drawing). The deck is gated and so is the dog run but one of my dogs has a high prey drive and always manages to escape. My family is often forgetful and just lets them out into the main portion of the backyard. In addition, sometimes the dogs manage to sneak out while we are carrying groceries and such. There are also raccoons, opossums, and coyotes in the area. I want to bring him in every night because I’m so afraid of what could happen. Should I have a mesh lid covering the enclosure or should I use a gate? And if I use a gate should it be electric?
  4. Flooding. My house is the oldest in the block and this the lowest so everyone’s rain water flows into our backyard. We have a drain and a tree to soak up the water but it still floods 1-2x a year.
  5. Humidity: Should I just wrap some greenhouse plastic over a portion on top of the enclosure? I don’t want to make it too hot for him because I know it’s going to be a really hot summer. I also have a big ceramic soaking dish for him. The water in the hose comes out incredibly cold though so I’m not sure if I should use it.
  6. Planting: What plants should I use to provide maximum coverage that can also survive the Chicago winter and are perennial? Where can I buy these plants to ensure that they are tortoise safe and have not been sprayed with any pesticides? Or is there a way for me to treat them so that they are safe? I was also going to seed it with some weed seeds (broadleafs, dandelions, etc).
  7. Hides: do I need a heated dog house style hide for him? I’ll probably take him back to college with me in September when it starts to get colder. I also saw another user made rock caves for their tortoises which look amazing and I was wondering if someone had directions to build them
  8. Anything else I’m missing or any other tips and resources to check out? I’ve read a lot of posts on here but still had more questions! Thank you for all your help! I just want what’s best for my little guy :)
 

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wellington

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@ZEROPILOT can help for a proper size enclosure.
I would cover the enclosure with fencing so the dog can't get into it.
As for flooding, either bring him inside when it rains or make the enclosure higher than the yard
Misters or sprinklers would be a better way to get the humidity up. Set them in a timer
Yes, you need to offer a heated hide for those cooler nights and to lock him into every night and let him out every morning
 

ZEROPILOT

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Pine is fine outside.
I use treated pine. It lasts for years and it's cheap. Most of my enclosures are entirely made of six foot fence pickets lumber.
Bang some steel pickets into the ground and attach the lumber to the pickets with DECK SCREWS. (They also last forever)
I'd go at least 10x10. Larger is better.
Include plants and hiding spots. Also a water feature or pool.
You can also use a simple sprinkler head on a hose to make it rain.
This enclosure HAD both walls. A door and a roof to keep neighborhood cats out.
Your experience may vary.
 

ZEROPILOT

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You may need to bring in some fill and raise up the area that the enclosure will be on. Or build a raised enclosure.
Dogs can never (ever) be nearby. Any dogs. Eventually it will chew on your tortoise. They're irresistibly delicious. Unfortunately.
Hopefully you'll get a few ideas from my video. But south Florida and Chicago are worlds apart. What's easy for me is.....Frankly it's something I have no clue about!
Make sure you post what ends up working for you so that it can help others.
 

Alex and the Redfoot

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Hello!
1. Here is some guidelines on building a rock cave. It's more like a burrow so it's useful to escape summer heat: https://tortoiseforum.org/media/pxl_20230610_215055281-jpg.12890/
2. Here some examples of the enclosure and fencing setups: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/t...-enclosure-for-a-leopard.212286/#post-2106901 (also, Tom recommends wielded wire, not a chicken wire for protection from larger predators). You may opt for the double-fence/gate to prevent dog accidents.
3. Humidity is a pain to keep in dry climates. Perhaps, your best bet are sprinklers, low growing plants, dense grasses and wet soil/substrate.
4. I don't know which plants like humid soils and can survive winters in Chicago.. Perhaps ferns and sedges can. Bushes and small trees, perhaps can overwinter and provide a "seasonal shade". I would look for the plants native to your area as, obviously, tropical and decorative plants most likely won't survive. Store-bought plants can be repotted with their roots rinsed and will be safe only after year or so. Growing from seeds or fresh cuttings (like with pothos vines and spider plants) - is the safest way.
5. As for the enclosure size, 120 sq.ft. is a good starting point for a smaller (7-10 inch) redfoot.
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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I wouldn't recommend ferns, some ferns contain carcinogens and many also contain thiaminase (an enzyme that depletes the vitamin B complex in the body). Some ferns are safe, but they are really hard to ID, and atleast in my country you can't really trust the stores selling ferns 100% that they know what they are selling.
https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/plant-database/viewplants/?plant=116&c=2

Bracken and Japanese painted fern are especially a no go for an enclousure. Boston fern is the only one I know to be safe, but you should really make sure that it is boston fern.
 

Alex and the Redfoot

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That's a valid point. Boston ferns are the only considered safe.

AFAIK, for the imported plants sold in EU there should be a "plant passport" provided to track its origin and specie. Usually it's simply printed on side of the plant pot.
 

Tom

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Hi, my name is Rowan and I have a 12 year old male red foot name Torti! He’s been with me since we were both little and we’ve grown up together! I’m currently in the Chicago burbs and I’m looking to build an outdoor enclosure in my parents back yard!

Usually Torti lives with me at college in a 6x2 galvanized steel tractor supply stock tank with a greenhouse cover over it. I know that it’s not enough space but it’s the best I can do during the winter for now. My dream is to move somewhere further south and have him live outside full time! I had some questions about building the enclosure and I was looking for some tips!



  1. Size: what is a good size enclosure for him? I know the larger the better but I wanted a range of what most people do
  2. Most of the lumber near me is pine which I know is unsafe for tortoises. What do you recommend?
  3. Predators: I have three large dobermans who love to jump. They have a dog run in the side yard that they access through the deck doors and stairs. I’ve attached a chart in the image below for reference (excuse my terrible drawing). The deck is gated and so is the dog run but one of my dogs has a high prey drive and always manages to escape. My family is often forgetful and just lets them out into the main portion of the backyard. In addition, sometimes the dogs manage to sneak out while we are carrying groceries and such. There are also raccoons, opossums, and coyotes in the area. I want to bring him in every night because I’m so afraid of what could happen. Should I have a mesh lid covering the enclosure or should I use a gate? And if I use a gate should it be electric?
  4. Flooding. My house is the oldest in the block and this the lowest so everyone’s rain water flows into our backyard. We have a drain and a tree to soak up the water but it still floods 1-2x a year.
  5. Humidity: Should I just wrap some greenhouse plastic over a portion on top of the enclosure? I don’t want to make it too hot for him because I know it’s going to be a really hot summer. I also have a big ceramic soaking dish for him. The water in the hose comes out incredibly cold though so I’m not sure if I should use it.
  6. Planting: What plants should I use to provide maximum coverage that can also survive the Chicago winter and are perennial? Where can I buy these plants to ensure that they are tortoise safe and have not been sprayed with any pesticides? Or is there a way for me to treat them so that they are safe? I was also going to seed it with some weed seeds (broadleafs, dandelions, etc).
  7. Hides: do I need a heated dog house style hide for him? I’ll probably take him back to college with me in September when it starts to get colder. I also saw another user made rock caves for their tortoises which look amazing and I was wondering if someone had directions to build them
  8. Anything else I’m missing or any other tips and resources to check out? I’ve read a lot of posts on here but still had more questions! Thank you for all your help! I just want what’s best for my little guy :)
1. Get two of these and make it 8x16:
IMG_7276.jpg
Its an 8x8 chicken coop from Tractor Supply.

2. Pine is fine. I wouldn't use pine shaving in an indoor enclosure, but pine limber is the norm. I use to for everything.

3. See number one answer.

4. Build on higher ground, make it higher ground by adding dirt, or bring the tortoise inside.

5. Sprinklers, misters, plants, and shade.

6. Grape vines, rose of Sharon, mulberry trees, and then plant seed mixes, like the Testudo mix from tortoisesupply.com, annually.

7. Yes. They need a heath shelter to be locked into every night both for warmth and for safety.
IMG_1050.jpg
IMG_1051.jpg
IMG_1059.jpg
IMG_1057.jpg

8. The 6x2 over winter is not enough. I say this to be truthful , not mean. If the best you can do is not good enough, then other arrangements need to be made. I recently discovered and looked into Amazon Puffing Snakes. They are super cool, but they need a large planted tall enclosure around 6x6x3. I don't have a place for something that size right now, so I did not get one. I didn't buy one, put in into an enclosure that was too small, and proclaim "that's the best I can do". No. No it isn't. The best you can do is use the tortoise correctly, even if that means having to house it somewhere else. 6x2 over winter is not the best you can do. Its what you were willing to do. I hope that going forward you will do better.
 

rowanzdz

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Joined
Dec 1, 2023
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3
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, IL
You may need to bring in some fill and raise up the area that the enclosure will be on. Or build a raised enclosure.
Dogs can never (ever) be nearby. Any dogs. Eventually it will chew on your tortoise. They're irresistibly delicious. Unfortunately.
Hopefully you'll get a few ideas from my video. But south Florida and Chicago are worlds apart. What's easy for me is.....Frankly it's something I have no clue about!
Make sure you post what ends up working for you so that it can help others.
Oh gosh yeah I know that if my dogs ever get a hold of him he’s a goner. They have never had access to him and they never will. I just wasn’t sure whether a fence with a lid vs a lid topper would be safer. I really like your idea though! Thankfully my uncle is a master carpenter so I can maybe get him to help if he’s not to busy this summer! Did you cement structure in by any chance?
Should I make it dig proof? The soil around me is pretty much straight clay after a foot or two and is incredibly hard to dig through, but I know with redfoots if there’s a will there’s a way! Also I love your hose system! i have an electrical outlet on the other side of the yard but unfortunately it is on the other side of the side walk. Would you recommend just putting in a new one on the tortoise house? Again thank you so much for your help and expertise!
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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Joined
Apr 6, 2024
Messages
312
Location (City and/or State)
Finland
That's a valid point. Boston ferns are the only considered safe.

AFAIK, for the imported plants sold in EU there should be a "plant passport" provided to track its origin and specie. Usually it's simply printed on side of the plant pot.
Yeah, you are right about the imported plants. But in my country plants that are not imported, aka grown here in Finland are often sold under the name "Houseplant mix" or something like that. There has been some public complaining after some journalist found out how many toxic plants were sold with illegally little info about what the plant actually was. Since many companies grow vegetables here in greenhouses in the winter, they try to find use for that space during the summer, often for growing plants. Not even going into the smaller businesses selling plants straight from their farms...
 

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