Outdoor Sulcata Enclosure in N Florida

WaterBear

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Hi! After searching and reading, I'm hoping to get some specific advice. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

My son has a 4 year old Sulcata that has gotten way too big for his indoor home. Now that it's warming up again, we want to get him settled outside. We are in north Florida, just south of Tallahassee. We've marked off a 50 by 50 foot area to fence in, but we need to work out some details before proceeding.

How much direct sunlight does a Sulcata need? I've attached a photo of the area. There's dappled sunlight but few large clear patches. Should we take out some trees before building the fence? Or leave them as predator protection?

What fencing material would hold up best long term? My husband mentioned railroad ties, but I was worried about the chemicals they're treated with. If we did concrete blocks, would rebar pounded into the ground as support be enough to discourage digging under it? Would chain link fencing damage his shell? We are considering paying a fencing company to do all the work, but I want to make sure I ask for the right things as I doubt they would know about what a tortoise needs.

How deep should we go to prevent escape? How high? We are considering putting electric wires around the top to keep out dogs and wildlife. Our property is right against the national forest, so we have a lot of wildlife.

We would like to use forage plants as his primary food source. There's already grape vines growing there. What else could we plant that would be good for a Sulcata and suitable for our area? Are there any toxic plants we should look out for and remove?

I know he'll need a house, but I'm debating about building something that would fit him forever vs something that will fit for now. What has your experience been with that?

I'm sorry for being so long-winded, and I hope this isn't too much. I just want to make sure he is safe and comfortable outside.
 

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Tom

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Hi! After searching and reading, I'm hoping to get some specific advice. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

My son has a 4 year old Sulcata that has gotten way too big for his indoor home. Now that it's warming up again, we want to get him settled outside. We are in north Florida, just south of Tallahassee. We've marked off a 50 by 50 foot area to fence in, but we need to work out some details before proceeding.

How much direct sunlight does a Sulcata need? I've attached a photo of the area. There's dappled sunlight but few large clear patches. Should we take out some trees before building the fence? Or leave them as predator protection?

What fencing material would hold up best long term? My husband mentioned railroad ties, but I was worried about the chemicals they're treated with. If we did concrete blocks, would rebar pounded into the ground as support be enough to discourage digging under it? Would chain link fencing damage his shell? We are considering paying a fencing company to do all the work, but I want to make sure I ask for the right things as I doubt they would know about what a tortoise needs.

How deep should we go to prevent escape? How high? We are considering putting electric wires around the top to keep out dogs and wildlife. Our property is right against the national forest, so we have a lot of wildlife.

We would like to use forage plants as his primary food source. There's already grape vines growing there. What else could we plant that would be good for a Sulcata and suitable for our area? Are there any toxic plants we should look out for and remove?

I know he'll need a house, but I'm debating about building something that would fit him forever vs something that will fit for now. What has your experience been with that?

I'm sorry for being so long-winded, and I hope this isn't too much. I just want to make sure he is safe and comfortable outside.
Hello and welcome. I'll answer one at a time:
1. Direct sunlight? A lot. More when its winter, less when its summer. Trees offer no predator protection, so fell as many as needed.

2. Fencing material: Chain link works, but put a 16 inch visual barrier around the whole bottom for anything see through. Corrugated roofing plastic stuck into the ground vertically with a pressure treated lumber frame around the top works. Cinder blocks will work for a while, but eventually he will be large enough to knock it down. 2x8 pressure treated lumber set on 4x4 posts will do it too. Start with two rows now and add a third row later. Plywood will work this way too. I would skip the railroad ties out of an abundance of caution.

3. They don't dig out. I don't know why people think this, but you are not alone... When they dig, they dig down at about a 30-40 degree angle and there is one tunnel, that goes up and down at that angle. They don't dig down and then dig back up in a different direction on a different angle. If they dig at the edge of the fence, the tortoise might physically be outside the pen underground, but they won't dig up from there. They will use the single burrow entrance. Burrows are great for summer, but in fall and through winter, you must block off the burrow entrance with a sheet of plywood, and make the tortoise use its heated night box, like these:


4. 16 inch high walls will prevent escape. Go to 24 inches for a large adult.

5. I too am up against the national forest with all those same predators. They are usually not a problem in the day time, and the tortoise will be locked in its heated shelter, or in its underground burrow at night. No harm in using electric wire or other additional safety measures.

6. Grape vines are great, as is kudzu. Mulberry leaves, spineless opuntia pads, many type of weeds, and more of all, lots and lots of grass. Grass should be the primary food source. Yes, there are lots of toxic weeds to look out for, and don't let anyone tell you they won't eat them. They will and it can kill them. Pull out plants you aren't sure of by the root.

These are GREAT questions. You are thinking the right way. Here is more info, and questions are welcome:
 

EppsDynasty

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I agree with @Tom ...I have never had an issue with digging "Out" I have had plenty of digging just not out. I pound a concrete stake or similar metal pole in the center of where they are starting to dig. It doesn't take long for them to realize they can not get past stake and move on. If they start digging a hole somewhere else I leave the original and pound a new one. I leave the original until they don't go back to it, usually a week or 2.
As for the Trees .. in the picture it looks like you may have trees outside the pen area that block lots of light. You could clear the ones in the pen to access "High Noon" light, but might want to trim back others around it to access more light. I am NO expert on this BUT I feel that the warm sun at the end of the day is VERY important. Our sulcatas hide from the midday sun and come out in the evening, being able to get full sun exposure and self regulate warming up before bed time. Letting them get "warm" then go into their nightbox for the night seems to keep them active more.
You will want pressure treated wood, where you are is Wet and Humid and wood will rot faster than other areas of the states. In my opinion 4x4's post with 2x8's as the runners is the best fence for Sulcatas.
Have you thought of a Family Built Pen? You mentioned a son, "A Family That Builds Together Stays Together." The measurements don't matter as much as "Does the board fit." It might be a great family bonding and learning responsibility activity that your family will look back at for years.
 

EppsDynasty

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Here’s a picture of yesterday’s pen built for a 20 lb. Sulcata.

IMG_0709.jpegIMG_0708.jpegIMG_0707.jpegI’m putting this picture to show it doesn’t need to be perfect. I don’t like masonry products (Bricks, Rocks) for Sulcata because it acts like a file on their shells. When they rub up against it, their shells get filed down.

IMG_0710.jpeg
 

WaterBear

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Excellent info! Thank you both so much!

The reason we are considering using a fencing company is to make sure it gets done ASAP. I know us, and we're bad about dragging our feet with projects of this scale. Meanwhile, our poor tortoise is stuck in his small indoor space. Since chain link with a privacy screen is ok, that’s probably the quickest and cheapest option but we’ll find out as we seek quotes. I know that’ll be taller than the 24” tall needed for the tortoise, but it should keep dogs out and hopefully discourage the bears. Sounds like adding electric fencing would be overkill.

We’ve been looking into buying an insulated doghouse instead of building something. Tom’s night box plans are genius, but we don’t have any power tools or the skills to use them. I’m properly ashamed but trying to be realistic. What about something like this: https://a.co/d/3NNmBap (59”x35” insulated doghouse)? We could add a Kane electric heat mat and a solid door. Our Sulcata will outgrow it someday, but it may need to be replaced due to wear and tear by then anyway.

Perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata) grows well in this area and is often used as a forage crop for other animals. I’m having trouble finding solid answers online about whether it’s good for tortoises. Any thoughts? Chick weed is another one that can grow well here and that seems confirmed as safe. Rye grass might be the fastest thing to get growing. I’m sure kudzu would do well, but I’m afraid it would take over the entire property in a blink.

I looked through the wonderful thread with toxic and edible plants (https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threa...ts-both-edible-and-toxic-for-tortoises.14564/). The only toxic thing I saw on there that I know we have around is Virginia creeper, so we’ll make sure to pull any of that up. The area for the enclosure is mostly oaks, sparkleberry, smilax, palmetto, and more leaf litter than ground cover now. I’ll look at everything more closely this weekend as we select trees to remove for added sunshine.
 

SinLA

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We’ve been looking into buying an insulated doghouse instead of building something. Tom’s night box plans are genius, but we don’t have any power tools or the skills to use them. I’m properly ashamed but trying to be realistic. What about something like this: https://a.co/d/3NNmBap (59”x35” insulated doghouse)? We could add a Kane electric heat mat and a solid door. Our Sulcata will outgrow it someday, but it may need to be replaced due to wear and tear by then anyway.

I've been down that path, almost NONE of the dog houses that call themselves insulated really are. They just say that because they have a piece of tar paper on the inside or something. Genuinely the only brand of doghouse that is legit insulated are these: https://www.asldoghouses.com/doghouse-products/ and making it work in terms of size or electricity safely might be a challenge. I do have the smallest one that I set up for heating for my Russian, and was a little concerned about the plastic melting, but then the heat attracted crickets so I just bring my guy in at night now. You're better off hiring someone from taskrabbit to build exactly what you need
 

Tim Carlisle

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I've been down that path, almost NONE of the dog houses that call themselves insulated really are. They just say that because they have a piece of tar paper on the inside or something. Genuinely the only brand of doghouse that is legit insulated are these: https://www.asldoghouses.com/doghouse-products/ and making it work in terms of size or electricity safely might be a challenge. I do have the smallest one that I set up for heating for my Russian, and was a little concerned about the plastic melting, but then the heat attracted crickets so I just bring my guy in at night now. You're better off hiring someone from taskrabbit to build exactly what you need
Seem kinda small to me. Maybe it's just the way I'm looking at them.
 

SinLA

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This is the biggest of the three, I have the smallest, but also have a 5" Russian! Would most likely not be big enough for a full grown Sulcata

DIMENSIONSCRB.jpg
 

Tim Carlisle

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This is the biggest of the three, I have the smallest, but also have a 5" Russian! Would most likely not be big enough for a full grown Sulcata

DIMENSIONSCRB.jpg
I have a 70+ lb wrecking ball. Point taken. ;) lol
 

EppsDynasty

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@WaterBear ... The dog house is not insulated. It has a Liner that you put up inside that is sorta an insulation, nothing worth while though. Your tort will tear it up when rubbing on the walls inside.
As for the Perennial Peanut, there is a wonderful website called The Tortoise Table you may try sending them an email.
 

Tom

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Since chain link with a privacy screen is ok...
I don't think privacy screen will work. The tortoise can see through it and will try to push through it. The "screen" part will also degrade over time and could be eaten or become a tangle hazard. You can try it, but be on the look out for the tortoise rubbing on it and hurting itself. They can rip out leg scales in one day of trying to climb/push through chain link. Have a back up plan ready.

Dog houses don't work for tortoises. I tried and tired, and by the time I modified them enough to work halfway decently, it was cheaper and easier to just build it from scratch.

P.S. I'm a fan of tardigrades too! :)
 

zolasmum

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I don't think privacy screen will work. The tortoise can see through it and will try to push through it. The "screen" part will also degrade over time and could be eaten or become a tangle hazard. You can try it, but be on the look out for the tortoise rubbing on it and hurting itself. They can rip out leg scales in one day of trying to climb/push through chain link. Have a back up plan ready.

Dog houses don't work for tortoises. I tried and tired, and by the time I modified them enough to work halfway decently, it was cheaper and easier to just build it from scratch.

P.S. I'm a fan of tardigrades too! :)
Are you really a fan of tardigrades, Tom?
I am too- what remarkable creatures they are !
Angie
 

Tom

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Are you really a fan of tardigrades, Tom?
I am too- what remarkable creatures they are !
Angie
Yes. Almost indestructible they are, and soooo cool looking. I saw one on a t-shirt once and the guy was flabbergasted that I knew what it was.
 

EppsDynasty

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Third that .... Our amazing world has wonders that we just cannot understand. Tardigrades are just the beginning.
 

zolasmum

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Yes. Almost indestructible they are, and soooo cool looking. I saw one on a t-shirt once and the guy was flabbergasted that I knew what it was.
Have you ever seen this? -it made me laugh !
Angie -( nothing political intended )
screenshot_87.jpg
 

EppsDynasty

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Power went out and posted my Half thought.

Privacy slats are UV stabilised to last about 10 years, but then they will degrade. They are also slid into the chainlink so YES he will be able to see out. After they start to break down your Sulcata WILL eat the green, tan pieces of plastic Guaranteed. They issue I have with chain link is what @Tom mentioned, their leg spurs will be ripped off,out as they rub up against it. Picture him turning around up against the Chain Link, inevitably he will catch and tear scutes off. Wood is great in that it is forgiving, it is softer than any other fence material and allow the tort behave naturally without damage.
 

jaizei

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No idea, but perhaps if I could read Russian that would help !

Just think of all the great Russian literature you could read.

It's just an edited propaganda poster that was about children.
 

zolasmum

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Just think of all the great Russian literature you could read.

It's just an edited propaganda poster that was about children.
Oh yes, that makes sense - he was actually holding a child rather than a tardigrade ! Thanks
Angie
 

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