young adult sulcata summer Colorado outdoor housing questions

Shedon's mom

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Hello All, I just posted another thread about our grown Sulcata tortoise developing diarrhea after gorging on rich spring grass. I am starting a seperate thread to ask for advice about housing for the same tortoise. We adopted Sheldon in the fall and he lived in our laundry room for the winter.

This weekend we are building him his new summer/fall outdoor home. We purchased a 4' x 6' Rubbermaid garden shed with a lid that lifts off for access for cleaning, which we will set up in a stable (which has a roof and stays dry) although the sides of the stable are open. He will be out in our fenced yard all day and then we will close him up at night so that he is warm and protected from predators (we have a lot of fox here).

We are going to insulate the inside of the shed, then cover that with plywood for the walls, use a pig mat on the floor on a timer at nights for warmth, and hang UVB and infrared lights on a timer on the inside. If that does not keep things warm enough we will put another Zilla type mini-oil floor heater in there.

My question is - we are debating whether to insulate and put plywood on the flooring too so that we can be really sure he stays warm enough (it can get down to temps as low as the 50's at night even in summer) or whether to leave the hard dirt which is the current floor of the stable, which I am sure he would like more.

If we insulate and put down plywood for flooring, what is the best way to keep this clean once he starts pooping his massive poops and urinating in there? I am wondering about adding top soil that we periodically change out.

Any comments or suggestions on our described setup would be appreciated.

We will still need to come up with a better option for him for winter rather than my laundry room! I am not convinced this outdoor shed setup will be warm enough in the cold winter months, although I do see posts from a number of folks have permanent outdoor tortoise housing in winter climates for their Sulcatas.

Here is a picture of sweet Sheldon, with his chicken friends in our yard.

20170731_082656 (1).jpg

I also thought you would get a kick of seeing how Sheldon travelled to us last fall - my husband flew him home to us in an airline bag.

4133.jpeg

He is quite pyramided from his past life... does that ever go away if we are able to correct his nutrition, humidity etc??
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Hello All, I just posted another thread about our grown Sulcata tortoise developing diarrhea after gorging on rich spring grass. I am starting a seperate thread to ask for advice about housing for the same tortoise. We adopted Sheldon in the fall and he lived in our laundry room for the winter.

This weekend we are building him his new summer/fall outdoor home. We purchased a 4' x 6' Rubbermaid garden shed with a lid that lifts off for access for cleaning, which we will set up in a stable (which has a roof and stays dry) although the sides of the stable are open. He will be out in our fenced yard all day and then we will close him up at night so that he is warm and protected from predators (we have a lot of fox here).

We are going to insulate the inside of the shed, then cover that with plywood for the walls, use a pig mat on the floor on a timer at nights for warmth, and hang UVB and infrared lights on a timer on the inside. If that does not keep things warm enough we will put another Zilla type mini-oil floor heater in there.

My question is - we are debating whether to insulate and put plywood on the flooring too so that we can be really sure he stays warm enough (it can get down to temps as low as the 50's at night even in summer) or whether to leave the hard dirt which is the current floor of the stable, which I am sure he would like more.

If we insulate and put down plywood for flooring, what is the best way to keep this clean once he starts pooping his massive poops and urinating in there? I am wondering about adding top soil that we periodically change out.

Any comments or suggestions on our described setup would be appreciated.

We will still need to come up with a better option for him for winter rather than my laundry room! I am not convinced this outdoor shed setup will be warm enough in the cold winter months, although I do see posts from a number of folks have permanent outdoor tortoise housing in winter climates for their Sulcatas.

He is quite pyramided from his past life... does that ever go away if we are able to correct his nutrition, humidity etc??
Hello and welcome! Glad you are here.

I'll try to hit your points one by one. It helps keep me on track if I number them…

  1. Mine go from dry hay all sumer/fall, to eating fresh grass and weeds as soon as we get our winter rains. It doesn't cause diarrhea, so I suspect another cause. Running loose in the yard and eating random weeds, or eating chicken poo, are both likely culprits. Your tortoise needs its own dedicated large enclosure out there. There needs to be a fence around it that offers a visual barrier around the bottom 12-16 inches and the other animals need to be kept out. Then you need to ID every plant in the enclosure and remove any that you are not 100% sure are safe. Here is how I did mine, but there are many ways to do it: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/enclosure-expansion.38788/
  2. Living on the floor of a house is not a suitable or safe environment for a tortoise. I don't know how to house a giant tropical reptile that needs warm temps and a lot of room in a frozen winter climate, but on the floor isn't it. There are but two season where they come from: "Hot and hotter". There is no cold winter floor season over there. I hope you don't mind my demented sense of humor and candor here… :)
  3. Rubber Made deck boxes or sheds, dog houses, dogloos and things of that nature don't work well. They are not designed for tortoises and don't work well for them. I've tried to use all of these things and more and I was not satisfied with the results, so I started designing and building my own. They work perfectly. Night temps get into the high 20's here in winter and these boxes maintain temps in the 80s with no problems. I'd try to return the deck box if possible and build one like this instead. Here are two examples:
    https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/another-night-box-thread.88966/#post-828952
    https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/my-best-night-box-design-yet.66867/
  4. There is no need for UV inside the heated box for a tortoise that walks in the sun all day.
  5. Infrared and other colored bulbs should not be used over tortoises. They have better color vision than we do and these colored bulb can mess with their heads. Further, bulbs of any kind over a large tortoise are not effective and very likely to "slow-burn" the top of the carapace. Let it be dark in there like a burrow.
  6. I don't think Zilla makes any radiant oil heaters. New product? I get my mini radiant oil-filled heaters at Walmart. You'll need a thermostat to run it and Zilla makes a good one for that: https://www.lllreptile.com/products/13883-zilla-1000-watt-temperature-controller
  7. You definitely need an insulated floor! I learned this one the hard way. For one thing, the floor is too cold and it will suck the heat right out of the rest of the box. Number two: they will be fine for weeks or months, and then one day they will decide to dig to China and the whole box will be filled with dirt from the newly excavated burrow. Ask me how I know this…
  8. To keep my plywood floors "clean", I throw down a thin layer of dirt and put a thick layer of grass hay on top of that to absorb poop and pee, then I use a flat head shovel to scrape it all up and throw it all in a wheelbarrow as needed. I clean the box about once a week for four adult sulcatas. If you spot clean, you could probably go a whole month for a single sulcata.
  9. Old pyramiding will never go away, but new growth can come in smoother if you humidify the new night box. I use tubs of water in mine.
Please feel free to question any of this. We are all here to all tortoises! :)
 

Shedon's mom

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Joined
Oct 4, 2017
Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
Colorado
Sadly, no. Proper hydration will make new growth look normal, lessening the appearance of pyramiding.
Thanks so much to all of you for taking the time to reply! The wooden box definitely looks better...I had seen other posts on modifying Rubbermaid type boxes with insulation and not being handy in a workshop, thought we could manage that. We will try making a box following Tom's box outline. A
Sadly, no. Proper hydration will make new growth look normal, lessening the appearance of pyramiding.
Hello Madbad, thanks for the reply...I have tried to read through various sources about pyramiding but there's just so much literature and it's hard to wade through it all... Through the ages it seems both nutritional and humidity problems have been blamed, but I'm puzzled why an African desert tortoise which theoretically comes from a very dry climate would develop pyramiding from low humidity? If you have any incited left here it. Thanks
 

madbad

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Messages
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Your confusion come from the original misconception that Sulcatas live in the desert. they do not. They live in the Sahel region, and while parts of the Sahel are drier than others, it is by no means a desert. Furthermore, Sulcatas hatch during the monsoon season and, so, are adapted to high humidity environments.
 

Shedon's mom

New Member
Joined
Oct 4, 2017
Messages
17
Location (City and/or State)
Colorado
Hello and welcome! Glad you are here.

I'll try to hit your points one by one. It helps keep me on track if I number them…

  1. Mine go from dry hay all sumer/fall, to eating fresh grass and weeds as soon as we get our winter rains. It doesn't cause diarrhea, so I suspect another cause. Running loose in the yard and eating random weeds, or eating chicken poo, are both likely culprits. Your tortoise needs its own dedicated large enclosure out there. There needs to be a fence around it that offers a visual barrier around the bottom 12-16 inches and the other animals need to be kept out. Then you need to ID every plant in the enclosure and remove any that you are not 100% sure are safe. Here is how I did mine, but there are many ways to do it: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/enclosure-expansion.38788/
  2. Living on the floor of a house is not a suitable or safe environment for a tortoise. I don't know how to house a giant tropical reptile that needs warm temps and a lot of room in a frozen winter climate, but on the floor isn't it. There are but two season where they come from: "Hot and hotter". There is no cold winter floor season over there. I hope you don't mind my demented sense of humor and candor here… :)
  3. Rubber Made deck boxes or sheds, dog houses, dogloos and things of that nature don't work well. They are not designed for tortoises and don't work well for them. I've tried to use all of these things and more and I was not satisfied with the results, so I started designing and building my own. They work perfectly. Night temps get into the high 20's here in winter and these boxes maintain temps in the 80s with no problems. I'd try to return the deck box if possible and build one like this instead. Here are two examples:
    https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/another-night-box-thread.88966/#post-828952
    https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/my-best-night-box-design-yet.66867/
  4. There is no need for UV inside the heated box for a tortoise that walks in the sun all day.
  5. Infrared and other colored bulbs should not be used over tortoises. They have better color vision than we do and these colored bulb can mess with their heads. Further, bulbs of any kind over a large tortoise are not effective and very likely to "slow-burn" the top of the carapace. Let it be dark in there like a burrow.
  6. I don't think Zilla makes any radiant oil heaters. New product? I get my mini radiant oil-filled heaters at Walmart. You'll need a thermostat to run it and Zilla makes a good one for that: https://www.lllreptile.com/products/13883-zilla-1000-watt-temperature-controller
  7. You definitely need an insulated floor! I learned this one the hard way. For one thing, the floor is too cold and it will suck the heat right out of the rest of the box. Number two: they will be fine for weeks or months, and then one day they will decide to dig to China and the whole box will be filled with dirt from the newly excavated burrow. Ask me how I know this…
  8. To keep my plywood floors "clean", I throw down a thin layer of dirt and put a thick layer of grass hay on top of that to absorb poop and pee, then I use a flat head shovel to scrape it all up and throw it all in a wheelbarrow as needed. I clean the box about once a week for four adult sulcatas. If you spot clean, you could probably go a whole month for a single sulcata.
  9. Old pyramiding will never go away, but new growth can come in smoother if you humidify the new night box. I use tubs of water in mine.
Please feel free to question any of this. We are all here to all tortoises! :)

Hi Tom, my reply is really delayed but I wanted to thank you for spending so much time providing the info in your reply. I really appreciate it.

MORE HIDE BOX QUESTIONS: Can I ask for more detail about why Rubbermade options have not worked for you in the past and why you went to the wooden boxes? The reason I ask is that others on the forum have suggested that when insulated, the Rubbermades can maintain temperature adequately with heating etc. Anyway, we will build a good hide box per your design but we are short on time and need an immediate solution for the summer, so we may have to use the Rubbermade temporarily until we get a box built.

Can you suggest a workable size with dimensions for a hide box for a single adult sulcata that will hold a Kane heating pad in one corner and also a Zilla heater, but that is large enough for him to move further from the heating sources in case he gets too hot? And, right now Sheldon is not huge yet (about 25 pounds); perhaps it is better to make a smaller box to retain more warmth and then make a bigger one as he outgrows this? I may not have looked in the right place but did not see dimensions for the boxes in your links.

Thanks for the flooring info. And, we are making a fence enclosure.

MORE HEATING QUESTIONS:
I was thinking of getting the 18 x 28" Kane mat that has the thermostat, it is pricey (>$200) but I think we really need the thermostat option. Any comments about that?

Thanks for the thermostat link for the Zilla heater. Are there any concerns about the radiant oil heaters out in a barn setting and with hay?? apparently not, since you use them in your boxes. I see from your photos that you have a wood protector encasing the heater which hopefully keeps out some of the hay.

LIGHTING: we were only using the various light sources and overhead heating sources while he had to be inside during the night or really snowy days. I mis-spoke about the infrared bulb and did understand that the colored bulbs were harmful. We were actually using a clear white basking bulb and a long UVB Arcadia with daylight bulbs while he had to be indoors. And we had them hung at a height so as to not exceed about 90 degrees on the top of the shell (checked often with gun thermomenter).

Thanks for all of your advice.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
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Messages
64,241
Location (City and/or State)
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Hello Madbad, thanks for the reply...I have tried to read through various sources about pyramiding but there's just so much literature and it's hard to wade through it all... Through the ages it seems both nutritional and humidity problems have been blamed, but I'm puzzled why an African desert tortoise which theoretically comes from a very dry climate would develop pyramiding from low humidity? If you have any incited left here it. Thanks

We've had the wrong idea about this species for decades. Ever since they were first introduced to the hobby in the 80's. Madbad hit the high points, but I want to expand. For decades it was assumed this species was a desert species. They aren't and even if they were, desert tortoises don't do well in what we humans envision as "desert" conditions in our captive enclosures. Sulcatas occur in grass lands and forest edges. It takes a lot of annual rainfall to maintain grass lands and forests, right? Almost everything you find and read for the care of this species is wrong. It was all based on incorrect assumptions about where they are from, it doesn't work, and its been repeated for decades now. Almost every book, website, vet, breeder and expert will all tell you the same wrong info. I and several others knew something was wrong because none of us could grow a "normal" looking tortoise by following the advice "they" were giving. We began researching and experimenting. We figured it out. Many pieces of this puzzle came from many different sources, but we've got it now.

Every book you read will tell you that sulcatas come from an arid region. They do. 8 or 9 months of every year there is the dry season. The sulcatas are all underground in warm damp burrows during this time. Wild sulcatas spend 95% of their lives underground. Guess what is happening the other 3-4 months of each year that the books never mention… The rainy season. Its hot, humid, wet, and there are puddles, green growing food and marshes everywhere. Now guess when baby sulcatas hatch and leave their underground nests… The start of the rainy season. Ever been to South FL or New Orleans in summer? Those places have mild humidity in comparison. When I started telling people that they need daily soaks and high humidity, one of the first snotty retorts was always: "Well who soaks them every day in nature?" "Ummmm…", I would answer: "Its rainy, humid and there are puddles all around, sooooo Mother Natures soaks them every day." There was a lot of resistance to this idea at first. To this day people are resistant to this idea the first time they hear it, but the massive amount of real world facts and evidence is so overwhelming that it can't be argued anymore. Many try, but its pointless. All I have to do is post a pic of a healthy smooth baby, and what can they say?

More explanation here:
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/the-end-of-pyramiding.15137/

To sum it up: Pyramiding is caused by growth in conditions that are too dry. It is not caused by food.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
64,241
Location (City and/or State)
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MORE HIDE BOX QUESTIONS: Can I ask for more detail about why Rubbermade options have not worked for you in the past and why you went to the wooden boxes?

Those types of boxes are too tall inside, so your are heating a lot of unused air space for no reason. Heat rises, so you have to get the top few feet really hot to have the correct temp down on the floor.

They are also too drafty as the seams and doors allow too much airflow.

They lack insulation. People say they can add insulation. By the time you do all that and seal it and add plywood to protect the insulation, you could have just built a better box the right size that will work better.

Lack of insulation makes the floors really cold too.

Can you suggest a workable size with dimensions for a hide box for a single adult sulcata that will hold a Kane heating pad in one corner and also a Zilla heater, but that is large enough for him to move further from the heating sources in case he gets too hot? And, right now Sheldon is not huge yet (about 25 pounds); perhaps it is better to make a smaller box to retain more warmth and then make a bigger one as he outgrows this? I may not have looked in the right place but did not see dimensions for the boxes in your links.

The first night box link in my previous post fits inside of a 4x4' lid. Interior dimensions are about 40x40. This size works great for a large sulcata. I make the doors 16x26" to fit a large adult male.

I don't know what kind of Zilla heater you have in mind, but to my knowledge they don't make one suitable of this application. You need a radiant heat panel over head. Any kind of bulb or ceramic heating element will burn the top of the carapace.

MORE HEATING QUESTIONS:
I was thinking of getting the 18 x 28" Kane mat that has the thermostat, it is pricey (>$200) but I think we really need the thermostat option. Any comments about that?

Spend the money on the redundant safeties. Think how bad you would feel if your tortoise was burned or killed. Imagine yourself looking down upon your cooked dead tortoise and how awful you would feel. Then imagine that I magically appeared in that moment and said: "For $200 I can take you back in time and prevent this disaster. "Would you spend the $200? Would you spend $2000 to go back in time and save your tortoise? I would. Spend the money. Its cheap insurance.

You will also run the Zilla thermostat in addition to the built in thermostats on the heat mat. Your temps will be correct and you will never cook your tortoise. Cheap insurance.

Thanks for the thermostat link for the Zilla heater. Are there any concerns about the radiant oil heaters out in a barn setting and with hay?? apparently not, since you use them in your boxes. I see from your photos that you have a wood protector encasing the heater which hopefully keeps out some of the hay.
You answered your own question. Don't let the hay come in contact with the heater. These heaters don't get hot enough to ignite anything, but why risk it.

And we had them hung at a height so as to not exceed about 90 degrees on the top of the shell (checked often with gun thermomenter).

90 degrees is really not warm enough for this species. And if the top of the carapace was 90 while cooking under the heat lamp, then the rest of the tortoise and the floor under it were far too cold. Its not an easy task to make a basking area large enough and safe enough for these giant tortoises.



These were great questions. You are clearly thinking these things through and that is great news for your tortoise! Keep asking. I'm happy to explain these things in more detail, or to answer other questions too.
 

Shedon's mom

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Thanks, I am many hundreds of dollars poorer now :eek::), but have ordered all the equipment above and waiting for arrival. Hide box almost done (we were able to return RubberMaid hut).

Question - are people using covers for their Kane mats or just allowing tort to lay directly on surface? And if on surface, what temperature setting should be used (80, 85 degrees so as not to overheat him?). How about the setting for the 80 watt overhead radiant heat panel? We will have both plugged into the Zilla 1000 thermostat. I assume hay on or around the Kane mat should be fine since it is designed for pig birthing.

Do you experiment with the thermostat and then keeping checking temps in the box from the floor up, as a guide for adjustments? In Colorado it is quite hot during days (at least by our standards - ambient temps in 80's, but still gets down into 60s at night). I was planning on closing him into his hide box at nights for protection and warmth (almost finished) with those as heat sources above on the thermostat. I assume during the day as the box warms up by ambient temps around it, that the thermostat will just kick the heat sources off or down.

I think the radiant oil heater may be too much for summer and probably not needed till it gets colder. I am a bit worried about closing him completely in to the box at night with no escape or circulating air ventilation if he is feeling too hot....goes against my gut feeling....but guess I have to trust the thermostat to function and the Kane mat has redundancy built in with a second thermostat.

I also sent you a question about water sources on another thread. Thanks again for all of the excellent advice.
 

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