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How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies discussion thread

Discussion in 'Sulcata tortoises' started by Tom, Sep 6, 2010.

  1. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    Here are my thoughts on how to house, feed and care for hatchling and small sulcatas:

    Indoor Housing: The bigger the better. Got room for a 4x8' tortoise table? Great! Sweater boxes and Christmas tree storage bins work great. Contrary to the popular trend right now, I actually PREFER glass tanks for all the reasons people say they are bad. "They are too tall and restrict airflow." Great! More humidity. "The tall sides hold in too much heat." Great! I can use a lower wattage bulb and my tortoise will stay warmer for less $. "They can see out and this invisible barrier causes stress." After 20 years of sulcatas in glass tanks, this has never been a problem for me. You can tape something opaque to the glass, if they constantly rub their nose on it or try to walk through it. I have never had to do this. I like them being able to see me, and me them. You can also use horse watering troughs, cement mixing tubs or large reptile tubs. I generally prefer something waterproof because babies need high humidity and moisture. Wood does not hold up well when its wet all the time and must be sealed somehow.

    Substrate: Coco coir. Cypress mulch. Orchid bark. Plain, additive free, soil. Sphagnum peat moss. Pick one or any combination. I recommend you do NOT use any sand, wood shavings, corn cob bedding, walnut shell bedding, alfalfa or grass pellets, newspaper bedding, any type of hay or any other new fad bedding that comes along. Keep your substrate damp to increase the humidity in the enclosure. If you can keep your humidity around 80% at tortoise level, you'll have a healthy, well hydrated, pyramid free, happy tortoise. Sometimes I cover part of the top of the enclosure to hold in humidity.

    Humid hide boxes: Use at least one. These will help prevent dehydration and pyramiding and simulate the humid burrows that they would have in the wild, to a degree. I like to use plastic shoe boxes for these and semi-bury them in the substrate. I use a Dremel tool to cut out the right size door hole and a quarter inch drill bit to make a couple of ventilation holes on opposing sides. If they don't use them on their own, I try to "train" them to use them by putting them in the boxes after lights out. Here's an example of a couple:
    [​IMG]
    I use fine coco coir inside them as it does not mold or grow any fungus. I like to keep it wet in there.

    Heat: I like to use small, 35-50watt, overhead, spot or flood bulbs for this. Always use ceramic fixtures, never the cheaper plastic ones. In a cool house, I'll use a bulb like this AND a ceramic heating element (CHE). Keep them both over one side. This will be the "warm" side and it should be 80-90 degrees. Directly under your bulb will be the "basking spot" and it should be 100-110 degrees, but only in that one spot. The other side of the enclosure should be around 75-80 and will serve as the "cool" side. "Night" temps should stay 75-80ish. These temps will insure that your little tort does not get sick with all the humidity in there. These are the four temps to be concerned with. They should be regularly checked with a temp gun AND a remote probed thermometer. Temps can be adjusted by raising or lowering your bulbs or raising or lowering the wattage. You do not need Mercury Vapor Bulbs or any other UV bulbs if your tortoise gets regular sunshine. 20-30 minutes twice a week is adequate, more is better. Put your light bulb on a timer for around 12 hours a day. They need it dark at night. This is where the CHE comes in. It keeps them warm AND dark at night. Also, I like to project my spot bulb down onto a flat rock or a piece of slate. They can bask on it and it absorbs and radiates the heat from the bulb over a larger area when they are not on it. This also gives you a good place to measure your basking temp with your heat gun. Here's an example of a basic enclosure to show what I'm talking about:
    [​IMG]

    Here's a digital thermometer with a wireless, remote probe.
    [​IMG]

    Food: Weeds; mallow, filaree, dandelion, sow thistle, plantain, etc... Grass. Mulberry, rose, hibiscus and grape leaves. Hibiscus and rose flowers. Spineless opuntia cactus. Mazuri mixed in with other greens a couple of times a week. Spring mix and leafy greens from the grocery store. Variety is good. Avoid fruit, and use foods like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, iceberg lettuce, very infrequently, if ever. When they get big, over a foot, you can try to introduce dry grass hay. But babies usually won't eat it.

    Supplements: This is debatable and the opinions run the whole spectrum from "none ever" to "lots every day". I like to use Rep-cal twice a week in a very small amount. I use Herptivite once a week in a small amount on one of the days that I didn't use the calcium. Because my torts get sun year round, I do not generally use any calcium with D3 added.

    Water: Use a terra cotta plant saucer, or something similar, and bury it so that its flush with the substrate. It will need to be cleaned at least once a day, maybe more.

    Sunshine/Outdoor enclosures: Sunshine is necessary. 20-30 minutes twice a week will prevent MBD, but more is better. I like to do an hour or two a day for hatchlings and gradually more as they get bigger. Here is a thread with more info on how to do this safely:
    http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Cheap-Easy-Simple-Sunning-Enclosure
    Putting them out for some sun will also get them to exercise more which is also very good for them.

    Pyramiding prevention: This is all new stuff. You won't see it on an internet care sheet. It is my opinion and the product of 20 years of utter failure and tons of research, observation and trial and error. Lot's of other people helped me to reach these findings, so its not just me. Here is how to grow a smooth, healthy sulcata: Keep them humid, hydrated, warm and spray their shells 3-4 times a day. Yes they are desert animals, but the babies stay hidden in burrows, root balls and leaf litter, where it is HUMID. Babies don't just walk around out in the open in the hot dry air in the wild. They'd get eaten if they did. Once they get to around 6-8" humidity and moisture is much less critical. It is important to get them sunshine, exercise and a good diet too, but hydration, humidity, and moisture is the KEY to preventing pyramiding. Soak them in shallow, warm water at least once a day. I soak them first thing in the morning and again after a sunning session in the hot, dry air here. Sometimes, I'll soak them a third time before lights out. Sulcatas are very resistant to shell rot and fungus. I have never seen a single case of shell rot on a sulcata. As long as they are kept warm (75 or warmer) they will not get respiratory infections either. I have tried to keep one too wet and could not induce any sort of problem. You don't have to go crazy, but do keep them well hydrated. Pyramiding has nothing to do with excess protein or too much food. It has everything to do with MOISTURE, HUMIDITY and HYDRATION.


    These things are MY opinion and are based on MY experiences with sulcatas and other torts over the last 20 years. My way is not the only way and other people have also raised smooth sulcatas, but it is very rare and can usually be traced back to high levels of humidity and or hydration. Much of this can also be applied to other species, but as of now, sulcatas are the only one that I have kept THIS wet.

    If anyone wants to debate or question any of this please PM me or start a new thread.

    The end.
    [​IMG]
  2. (These ads do not appear for registered members.)
    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Cute butt!
    Rick's Sullivan likes this.
  3. RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    cute butt
  4. DeanS

    DeanS SULCATA OASIS 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    ...and another perfect example of a thread that should be in EVERYONE'S favorites!;)
    Michelle85 likes this.
  5. melbeebe1980

    melbeebe1980 New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    How often do you recommend feeding a hatchling spring mix? and how much?

    Thank you for such a wonderful post it is very helpful to all of us that are new to sulcatas.:D
  6. Becki

    Becki New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Thanks Tom!
  7. jensgotfaith

    jensgotfaith Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Tom you totally rock!!! Thank you for posting this.
  8. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    This is a bit of a tough question to answer. There are a lot of variables. I'm not the best person to ask either, as I hardly ever use it. I live in an area with lots of weeds and over the years I've planted or found lots of good food sources. I would say that if you have a good spring mix (with no spinach), and if you use Mazuri with it a couple of times a week, and if you supplement Ca and vitamins properly, and if your tort gets regular sunshine, then you can probably use it every day. There are just so many other good things around, and I would hate to limit a tortoises diet so much. There are lots of members who live in the frozen North who use spring mix all winter long. I think they would be better able to answer your question.

    For your other question: I used to feed small amounts and skip a day once in a while. This has led me to 40-50 pound, 12 year old, "mini-sulcatas". I'm feeding my hatchlings every day and the three of them get a heaping butter-tub-lid-full. The lid is about 6" in diameter and I pile it high daily. Occasionally, if they eat it all up right away, I'll even give them seconds in the afternoon.
  9. spikethebest

    spikethebest Active Member 10 Year Member!

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    i love end pics.... :p
  10. jakalina

    jakalina New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Thank you for the info...I am a nervous new mother. Hopefully I will be able to give Jerome a perfect playground.
  11. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer TFO Admin 10 Year Member! Platinum Supporter

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    A slight hi-jack...my apologies to Tom.

    Hi Jakalina: Welcome to the forum!! Is your baby a sulcata?
  12. jakalina

    jakalina New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Yes he (im just going with a "he" for now) IS!!! I am very nervous because I recieved him by a bizarre twist of fate. I am aware of how big he will be and at the moment I am a renter/youngish person and willing to put in the time and effort to making his life happy and healthy. I am having serious reservations about him though. I want him to be able to wander and roam (kinda) free but like I said earlier, I am a RENTER living in rainy SEATTLE. it will be another three years until I live in a homne of my own, but for now he and I share a big house with three roommates and an arc-full of animals.
  13. vyeates409

    vyeates409 New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Hi, I would like to thank you so much for this it makes perfect sense. I just bought two sulcata babies and i got so many different stories i finally googled the part of Africa they were from and saw it was very humid their. After i read your finding i went right in and raise the humidity to 80%. I'm so glad i can feed them as much as they want. Thank You Vicki
  14. tasha26

    tasha26 New Member 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    so very helpful! u r awesome!
  15. terryo

    terryo Well-Known Member 10 Year Member!

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Can't get any better than that!!
  16. jctu82

    jctu82 Guest

    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    This was a very informative post! Thanks! I was looking to start raising tortoises and I was not sure which ones I should buy, but I think this convinced me to buy Sulcatas :)
  17. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Oh good lord, reconsider! They are a lot of work and you'll need acreage to house them. Okay that's an exaggeration, but they are a whole lotta' tortoise to house as adults. They are still my favorite, but I always want people to know what they are getting into. I'm four days into building a very expensive new den box for my adults.

    On a serious note: It is critical that you buy one from somebody whose been doing daily soaks, uses a damp substrate, humid hide box and a water bowl. I strongly recommend that you NOT buy one that has been housed on anything dry with no water bowl or soaks.

    Good luck and thanks for the compliment.
  18. jctu82

    jctu82 Guest

    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Well do you think it's worth it in the end? Can you suggest a smaller tortoise then?
  19. DeanS

    DeanS SULCATA OASIS 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    Sulcatas are only small for a couple years...after that? Look out! If you spoil it and take really good care of it, it could be 100 pounds by the time its 10 or 15 years old! And they don't stop there. If they hit 100 pounds by 15, then there's a good chance that it'll reach 150 by the time it's 20. So pretty much EVERY species is smaller (except for Galapagos and Aldabras).
  20. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    RE: How To Raise Sulcata Hatchlings and Babies.

    I'm finding that the Geochelone pardalis pardalis subspecies of the leopard tortoise shows all the good traits of sulcatas (fearlessness, curiosity, friendliness, boldness, hardiness, good appetite, cold tolerance, etc...), without all the draw backs (HUGE size, destructiveness, digging, aggressiveness). I tend to pick species based on which ones are best suited to my environment. I live in Southern CA so most species can live outside here year round with a little heated house, but its very dry and very hot in the summer, so I tend to stick with desert-type species.
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