New / any help, tips, suggestions appreciated

Maaaars_

New Member
Joined
May 12, 2020
Messages
2
Location (City and/or State)
Granada Hills
Hello Everyone,
My name is Marleine and I just moved to a house in Granda Hills, CA. Two desert tortoises were sprung on me-- age 4. I am loving these guys/girls but I just have so many questions to make sure I am giving them what they need.

So, Id like to know their gender? How can I check for that?

HABITAT: My backyard seems to be great (balance of shade and sun exposure), but there is a lot of plants. Should I identify them before letting them be outside?
Is it better for them to be in an enclosure or run wild in my back yard? *more questions to come

FOOD: I have two large garden boxes that I want to grow their food-- any recommendations on what I can plant for them? Also, what is best to be feeding them on a daily bases. I was told Kale and parsley. I want to give them more of a variety to make sure they are healthy.

WATER: I was told to soak them in water once a week.


All the feedback is greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much in advance!
 

Penguinness

New Member
Joined
May 10, 2020
Messages
10
Location (City and/or State)
Milton Keynes
Hi Marleine, I am brand new to tortoises so haven’t got any sage words myself but didn’t want to read and run! You have definitely come to the right place. I found @Tom ’s care sheets to be invaluable as regards habitat and care, and @Sunshie just pointed me to the tortoise table app for ideas on food. Good luck with your new babies 😊
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,396
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hello Everyone,
My name is Marleine and I just moved to a house in Granda Hills, CA. Two desert tortoises were sprung on me-- age 4. I am loving these guys/girls but I just have so many questions to make sure I am giving them what they need.

So, Id like to know their gender? How can I check for that?

HABITAT: My backyard seems to be great (balance of shade and sun exposure), but there is a lot of plants. Should I identify them before letting them be outside?
Is it better for them to be in an enclosure or run wild in my back yard? *more questions to come

FOOD: I have two large garden boxes that I want to grow their food-- any recommendations on what I can plant for them? Also, what is best to be feeding them on a daily bases. I was told Kale and parsley. I want to give them more of a variety to make sure they are healthy.

WATER: I was told to soak them in water once a week.


All the feedback is greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much in advance!
Hello and welcome. I'm just over the hill from you in Santa Clarita.

These are excellent questions. Let me start by saying that most of the care info you find for DTs is wrong. Its old, outdated and incorrect. The things we recommend here on TFO might differ, and that is why.

They are tough to sex at only four years old, but if you post pics of their plastrons showing their tails, we can take a guess.

Tortoises should never live in pairs. Its very stressful and totally unnatural for them. These guys each need their own enclosure.

Loose in the backyard is a recipe for disaster. They should each be contained in their own large enclosure.

They should not ever have access to plants that you aren't 100% sure are safe. Many tortoises die from poisoning. You might hear things like: "Tortoises have survived for millions of year without our help. I think they know what to eat and what not to eat." This is non-sense. That might apply to a native tortoise in its native land, if and only if the humans in the area haven't introduced all sorts of foreign plants. In our back yards that have plants from all over the world? No. Not the same thing.

On the subject of food:
So much contradictory info on this subject. Its simple. What do they eat in the wild. Grass, weeds, leaves, flowers, and succulents. Feed them a huge variety of these things, and you'll have a healthy tortoise. All of these species are very adaptable when it comes to diet and there is a very large margin of error, and many ways to do it right. What if you don't have this sort of "natural" tortoise food available for part of each year because you are in the snow? You will have no choice but to buy grocery store food. What's wrong with grocery store food? It tends to lack fiber, some items are low in calcium or have a poor calcium to phosphorous ratio, and some items have deleterious compounds in them. All of these short comings can be improved with some simple supplementation and amendments. A pinch of calcium two times per week will help fix that problem. You can also leave cuttle bone in the enclosure, so your tortoise can self-regulate its own calcium intake. What about fiber? Soaked horse hay pellets, soaked ZooMed Grassland pellets, Mazuri tortoise chow, "Salad style", "Herbal Hay" both from @TylerStewart and his lovely wife Sarah at Tortoisesupply.com, or many of the dried plants and leaves available from Will @Kapidolo Farms. If you must use grocery store foods, favor endive and escarole as your main staples. Add in arugula, cilantro, kale, collard, mustard and turnip greens, squash leaves, spring mix, romaine, green or red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, water cress, carrot tops, celery tops, bok choy, and whatever other greens you can find. If you mix in some of the aforementioned amendments, these grocery store foods will offer plants of variety and fiber and be able to meet your tortoises nutritional needs just fine. I find it preferable to grab a few grapevine or mulberry leaves, or a handful of mallow and clover, or some broadleaf plantain leaves and some grass, but with the right additions, grocery store stuff is fine too. Grow your own stuff, or find it around you when possible. Tyler and Sarah also sell a fantastic Testudo seed mix that is great for ALL tortoise species and also super easy to grow in pots, trays, raised garden beds, or in outdoor tortoise enclosures. When that isn't possible, add a wide variety of good stuff to your grocery store greens to make them better.

When you are ready to plant some cactus, let me know and I'll set you up with a bunch of free pads to start with. Cactus is one of their natural foods in the wild, and I have 12 varieties of spineless opuntia growing at my place.

Supplements:
I recommend you keep cuttle bone available all the time. Some never use it and some munch on it regularly. Some of mine will go months without touching it, and then suddenly eat the whole thing in a day or two. Sulcatas and leopards grow a lot. This requires a tremendous amount of calcium assimilation over time. A great diet is paramount, but it is still a good idea to give them some extra calcium regularly. I use a tiny pinch of RepCal or ZooMed plain old calcium carbonate twice a week. Much discussion has been given to whether or not they need D3 in their calcium supplement. Personally, I don't think it matters. Every tortoise should be getting adequate UV exposure one way or another, so they should be able to make their own D3. I also like to use a mineral supplement. "MinerAll" is my current brand of choice. It seems to help those tortoises that like to swallow pebbles and rocks. It is speculated that some tortoise eat rocks or substrate due to a mineral deficiency or imbalance. Whatever the reason, "MinerAll" seems to stop it or prevent it. Finally, I like to use a reptile vitamin supplement once a week, to round out any hidden deficiencies that may be in my diet over the course of a year.

Soaking: Once a week is fine most of the year. When the summer heat arrives, I'd go to twice a week. Use a tall sided opaque tub, and leave them in it for 30-40 minutes. Don't worry about it if they act like they want out. We call that the tortoise treadmill. The exercise is good for them. Soaking does NO harm. It does not "upset their water balance" and it does not make them poop their food out too soon and not get enough nutrition. Dehydration, and the related effects, are the number one killer of DTs in my experience. Dogs and incorrectly done hibernation would be the other two main causes of death.

I made this enclosure for a different temperate species. I like this idea because it lets them cool at night, but not too much in spring and fall. It keeps them secure from predators at night. It allows them to feel secure as if they are in their "burrow" but lets you have access to them and eliminates all the problems with actual burrows. It allows you to properly prepare them for hibernation, and properly bring them out of hibernation, and extends their active season. It protects them from the fickle and cruel whims of Mother Nature. Remember how hot is was in February? I woke this guy up and got him eating and up and running during all those hot days. Remember what our weather did in March. All that cold and rain was no problem for my little guy, because this night box kept him from getting too cold at night, and also gave him a basking lamp to warm up under and digest his food during all those cold rainy days in March. This would be an easy way to make a double enclosure for your two:
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There is a divider inside the box. Doing it this way allows me to heat and maintain one box, but still keep the tortoises separate.
 

Kapidolo Farms

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
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Joined
Nov 7, 2012
Messages
5,089
Location (City and/or State)
South of Southern California, but not Mexico
I don't wholly disagree with any of Tom's advise. I'd say I am a bit blind to fully understanding your whole situation, even though I read through your post a couple of times.

How big is the yard? if you are on several acres with a block wall fence, you might have no need to keep them separated, with that size yard they will do it themselves. If you have a smaller yard with a picket fence (regular fence boards) the chance they may wander off or 'escape' is much higher. At four inches in length they may seem to disappear but just be well hidden in a large yard.

Indeed you do want to make a plant inventory. Onions, garlic, all those kinds of things are documented as toxic for tortoises. There are many other plants where the 'better safe than sorry' principle could be applied. Oleander is not edible for anything accept a few specialized caterpillars, it is very toxic otherwise. Depending on your camera skills, most could be identified here on the Tortoise Forum (TFO).

Post pictures of the butt area from the underside for a sex ID guess, and post pictures of the different plants for IDing.

Night houses are great as you can check in on the tortoises easily with the lid.
 
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