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Keeping Russian tortoises outside in the Pacific Northwest

Discussion in 'Russian tortoises' started by biochemnerd808, Jul 7, 2014.

  1. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Today I would like to show some pictures of my adult Russian tortoises in their outdoor habitat in our yard. My hope is that this will encourage more tortoise keepers to provide their tortoise(s) with an outdoor space.
    Our weather is very similar to the climate in much of the UK, as well as Germany, Denmark, Holland, and some of France. It ekes me when I see people posting that it is 'too cold' in their climate to provide their tortoise with outdoor time. In reality, any day that is 65 degrees or above is warm enough for a Russian tortoise to spend at least part of the day outside. If basking is available (artificial or in a sunny spot), they can be outside all day in such weather.

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    Keeping tortoises in the Pacific Northwest has a unique set of challenges in that it rains A LOT here for part of the year. However, it is actually possible to keep them outdoors from April through September.
    @lynnedit deserves credit here - she lives just minutes from us, and was the one who encouraged me to take the leap and build an outdoor enclosure for my tortoises.

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    The benefits of keeping tortoises outdoors far outweigh the potential dangers, IF proper precautions are taken. The natural sunlight provides heat and healthy UVB, which promotes healthy bones and a good hard shell. Being able to wander a much larger area keeps the tortoise's muscles strong. Wild Russian tortoises live in climates that are harsher than ours! They can THRIVE in our climate.

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    We built the tortoise yard partially under the eves of our roof - about 2 feet out from our house wall stay completely dry, no matter how hard it rains. I have cut several buckets in half, and buried them under several inches of soil. They provide good hides for the tortoises to burrow into.

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    Russian tortoises are hardy, and even when the air temperature is only 60 degrees, the ground temperature in a sunny spot is often 30 degrees higher. You can help this by placing a flat dark rock into the area the sun hits first in the morning. I've also set up little cold frames, which I built from polycarbonate scraps I scored from a local garden center.
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    I simply taped the triangles together using foil ducting tape, and ta-daaaa! Instant slightly warmer, dry basking area!

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    The tortoises dig in for the night. Then as soon as the sun hits the tortoise garden the tortoises come out to bask. They wander around, graze, explore, and soak. By afternoon it gets HOT, and they retreat to the shady spots under the bushes. In the evening, they come back out again for another snack, or just to take a walk.

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    I have dug a trench under the wall of the enclosure, filled with cement pavers, so I don't have to worry about the tortoises digging out of their enclosure. The walls of the enclosure are capped so the tortoises can't climb out either.

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    Some tortoises that are normally picky eaters or have a shy personality really blossom when they are outdoors.
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    Now that it is summer, the tortoise yard has been grazed pretty bare - however, finding healthy weeds is no trouble here in the beautiful, green Pacific Northwest, so the tortoises eat well. I just throw several large piles of weeds into the enclosure every day.

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    This year was the first year that my tortoises had babies - Timmy and Roz produced 6 beautiful, healthy hatchlings.

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    At only about a month old, the babies only spend about an hour per day outside.

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  2. lynnedit

    lynnedit Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    What a great series of pictures and descriptions!!! :tort::tort::tort:
  3. tinkerbell1189

    tinkerbell1189 Active Member 5 Year Member

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    In love with your setup! And such gorgeous beautiful healthy looking torts... They really are thriving..

    Extremely jealous of your lovely group!
    cheerios586 and biochemnerd808 like this.
  4. RainsOn

    RainsOn Active Member

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    Amazing set up! I am currently working on an outdoor run for my Russian. Lots of ideas from yours.
    Thanks for sharing - always love pictures. ;)
  5. Yellow Turtle01

    Yellow Turtle01 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    I love all the plants! Waiting for mine to grow up a bit :rolleyes:
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  6. RainsOn

    RainsOn Active Member

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    Worked on my outdoor habitat this morning. Whew! In OK right now, I have to fight mosquitos, flies, gnats and the humidity. This morning, add wind and rising heat. EW! Lot of work for an old woman. Digger really likes getting out in the morning and he seems to be excited about his own area. It changes daily and he is eating the new plant life before I can get it to root good. I am so anxious to get it finished. Will look for "fencing" today.
    La La La La La La :tort:
  7. TortsNTurtles

    TortsNTurtles Well-Known Member

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    What is the size of this enclosure? You did a great job!
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  8. Blue-eeyore

    Blue-eeyore New Member

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    I also live in the PNW :D And i'm getting a russian tortoise soon and will be keeping him in an outdoor enclosure. Have you had any problems with any raccoons or other animals? I have dogs that usually keep those animals away but i'm nervous for when my dogs can't fend off that occasional raccoon or possum
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  9. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Raccoons can definitely be a problem. I don't have experience of them, but even someone as experienced as @Yvonne G has lost torts to raccoons recently.
  10. Oxalis

    Oxalis Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Amazed I haven't seen this lovely thread yet! I just love all your photos, @biochemnerd808!! Such adorable torts! Thanks for sharing such useful info; I have noticed that my Russian seems overall livelier and healthier from more time outdoors. He loves his garden and adding native plants has really kept it more sustainable. ;)

    I love the Pacific NW and I can't wait to go back someday. I wish it were easier to take time off work for travel. :rolleyes:
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  11. Tortoise_Wrangler

    Tortoise_Wrangler Member

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    My wife and I are considering moving to Oregon in the next few years, I was wondering it would be good enough weather to breed my Russians up there but you seem to be doing fine on that. Thanks for the info, its really made the decision process for me a lot easier.
  12. Carol S

    Carol S Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Super nice enclosure and beautiful torts. How many do you have in your group? Isn't it exciting to watch the eggs hatch and then take care of the hatchlings and watch them thrive and grow. :)
  13. Sandar

    Sandar New Member

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  14. Sandar

    Sandar New Member

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    Thanks! This is great to see. I also live in the Northwest. I have an outdoor space with a tunnel into a winter 'box'. It has heat, lights, timers, etc. They seem to be thriving as my first ever hatchling emerged this morning.
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  15. Shelwats

    Shelwats New Member

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    I am so thankful to find your post and see the beautiful home you have provided. We inherited what we thought was a Golden Greek. But - after finding this forum - realize she is a Russian. I realize there are many things we need to do for our new family member. I brought home some of the groundcover plants she was munching on at her old home, and planted them in her enclosure. She tends to wait for me to toss something her way, but has plenty to graze on. Love the list of plants they can eat. I believe it is our responsibility to provide our 'pets' with their natural diet. My cat eats raw meat - and our tort eats plant life. Thinking she was a Greek, and needed warmer temperatures, I would stress every evening when I had to find her and dig her out so I could bring her in to her box. We bough her a Tortoise House. She has a flat rock, a bowl of water (that she absolutely avoids. If I put her in it she can't wait to scurry out?!) and ground coconut shell for bedding. Now I am wondering about 'substrate'? Should I add moss? 1/3 of her house is dark, with about 4" of this coconut stuff. She just sticks her head in the corner and digs. I don't know what she's trying to do, but I want to help her? I have not kept her bedding moist and have wanted to rub her shell with coconut oil - because it looks dry. I have placed littles piles of vita-sand Gobi Gold (that she ignores). I want to take care of her properly, and realize I am falling short. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! 2015-09-27 15.29.15.jpg
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  16. Here's a link to a care sheet to help you. Please continue to ask questions we are glad to help......This care sheet will get you started. Russians are great escape artists, so it sounds normal to me for the digging, also they eat weeds and not grass. If you think there are enough weeds in her enclosure, stop offering her food and make her eat weeds. I kept my Russian's substrate slightly moist in the house, but I don't really keep Russians, I seem to get stuck with them. So read this care sheet and ask questions and you'll get a pile of help. I also live in the PNW, only in the part where it rains for 7 months.
    Here's my last Russian, she's loving life in Nebraska I hope.....does yours have a basking light inside? Or does she live outside 24/7?


    http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/russian-tortoise-care-sheet.80698/




    DSCN2083.JPG
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  17. TerraTheRussian

    TerraTheRussian Member

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    So, I have lost a Russian in the past. The pet store says it was have been sick when I got him, but I can't help but to wonder if he ate a bad weed. I live in the PNW.

    We have built a "cage" with 4 wooden walls and wire on too with a shade area that I can move around the yard. On warm days. I am nervous to put my new Russian in it. I don't know how to identify exactly what is growing in my yard. Its just a natural lightly grassy area with lots of little weeds in it. Nothing I planted, just whatever naturally grew. How does everyone identify every single weed that grown in their cage areas?
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
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  18. JenniferMarie

    JenniferMarie New Member

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    How are you able to keep them together? I keep hearing that they are territorial and will fight? Help
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  19. Oxalis

    Oxalis Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    So sorry to hear you lost a Russian in the past. :( I don't know all the weeds growing in my tort garden, but I usually try to keep only the healthy plants that I can absolutely identify. You will learn more plant species the more you study. :) There are a couple places that are very helpful for plant identification. You can post questions and photos here: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/forums/plant-identification.54/ I also recommend The Tortoise Table, which has a forum for posting photos: http://thetortoisetable.org.uk/site/tortoise_home_1.asp The Tortoise Table peeps are so helpful! I browse their plant database to learn about new plants. I refer back to it quite a lot. ;)
    Yes, several members on here have some horror stories about housing Russians together. They are very territorial and fight even during mating season. There is a whole pinned thread you may want to check out: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread...together-a-lesson-learned-the-hard-way.94114/
  20. TerraTheRussian

    TerraTheRussian Member

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    Thank you Jennifer. I actually found out a lot of the weed around here is a no-no using the Tortoise Table.
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