Deciding to get a baby Sulcata!

maggie3fan

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So I’ve already read Tom’s care sheet and I still have about a billion questions. I luckily have a month to do research and prepare as this was a special birthday request for my oldest. I’ve got all the enclosure stuff down except type of hydrometer and night heating element to use for the indoor hatchling enclosure? Also what are their personalities/activities like during the day? Are the diggers or climbers? Will 1/4in plywood suffice for the temporary winter enclosure? Curious to know more specifics on how fast they grow. How much is too much to feed them, as I know with our old Russian it was feed them as much as they want but I’ve seen that over feeding is common in hatchlings. Can I get any recommendations on breeders or places to buy from? I’m in Fort Worth Texas if anyone knows someone local.
For reference we will be wanting a young baby or hatchling by November. We will winter it indoors while my husband builds a fancy enclosure outdoors. But we just bought this house in May and the yard was completely neglected before we moved in, so we are completely tearing up and redoing all of it. So we need to know just how fast these big guys grow so we can get a corner of the yard ready for it while we finish up the rest of the yard and then build it an even bigger enclosure.
You have a couple of years before any baby could be kept outside
 

Tom

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You don't put your tortoises outside in the summer?
Adults live outside year round.

Babies have outside enclosures that I use two or three times a week when they are small. About an hour of sun per inch of tortoise is my usual guideline. But its not a summer enclosure or winter enclosure. I use both year round.
 

Violanna

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There is no summer or winter enclosure for babies. I'm not understanding what you think the difference is. There is just their large closed chamber that is indoors and temperature regulated. Its the same enclosure year round. Once thermostats and timers are set, you don't have to do much from season to season. Sometimes change a basking bulb to a little higher wattage for winter, but that should be about it.

I'd get two of the 24 quart bags of Reptibark, or one 2.0 cu. ft. bag of fir bark if you can find fine grade at a local nursery.
Oh no I just meant we are making an indoor enclosure for winters and an outdoor for summers. It gets pretty cold here in winter and sunning just may not be possible. Just needed to know how big they get in certain amount of time so I knew how long we have to get the really big outdoor enclosure built. Financially we can’t do what we plan with the outdoor one yet. We already have all the supplies except night heat, hydrometer and substrate for the indoor enclosure. Just bought some insulation and plexiglass for it yesterday.
 

Violanna

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Check the local garden centers they may carry the fine fir bark in bulk bags like mulch . Other wise maybe like 8 bags. I use cypress mulch first about 4” thick with Reptibark (fine fir bark from pet stores) over top. Same performance and look but a lot cheaper
I’ve been searching like crazy and finally found a local lumber yard that carries fir bark. Going to check it out this week. If that isn’t what I’m looking for I’ve found small bags of orchid bark at Lowe’s and a farm feed store. Or cypress mulch just about everywhere.
 

Violanna

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I don't have much experience but...I have noticed that as they grow, the weight, 5 years 40 to 50 lbs. 6 years, 50 to 60 lbs. That's loosely, just to give you an idea. Why get a hatchling? Those are fragile, hard to keep, and die easily. Adopt a bigger Sulcata, the rescues are full of them. And if you've never kept a tortoise before, get a Russian first. Not Sulcata
Not our first tortoise. Just not done a sully before and wanted to get it set up right BEFORE we get it! We are wanting a hatchling mostly due to the indoor space we have for an enclosure. I can only do a 2x4 indoors this year. But I’m also a Vet Tech student and my passion is reptiles.
 

maggie3fan

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Not our first tortoise. Just not done a sully before and wanted to get it set up right BEFORE we get it! We are wanting a hatchling mostly due to the indoor space we have for an enclosure. I can only do a 2x4 indoors this year. But I’m also a Vet Tech student and my passion is reptiles.
Good luck to ya. Stay and show us pictures when you get one. Buy a Sudan Sulcata from Tom....
 

pawsplus

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Adults live outside year round.

Babies have outside enclosures that I use two or three times a week when they are small. About an hour of sun per inch of tortoise is my usual guideline. But its not a summer enclosure or winter enclosure. I use both year round.
OK. I don't see why you wouldn't provide more outside time if you could. My redfoot had an outdoor pen from her first spring with me. It was covered and protected, and she got out almost every day for 6 or more hours. Unless you live in an area that's really not conducive to tortoises that isn't hard to do. Humidity runs 80-90% in my areas in the summer. I assumed that was what the poster was saying.
 

maggie3fan

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OK. I don't see why you wouldn't provide more outside time if you could. My redfoot had an outdoor pen from her first spring with me. It was covered and protected, and she got out almost every day for 6 or more hours. Unless you live in an area that's really not conducive to tortoises that isn't hard to do. Humidity runs 80-90% in my areas in the summer. I assumed that was what the poster was saying.
Yeah Tom, how come???
 

Tom

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OK. I don't see why you wouldn't provide more outside time if you could. My redfoot had an outdoor pen from her first spring with me. It was covered and protected, and she got out almost every day for 6 or more hours. Unless you live in an area that's really not conducive to tortoises that isn't hard to do. Humidity runs 80-90% in my areas in the summer. I assumed that was what the poster was saying.
Because too much time outside is bad for babies. I've done many side by side comparisons because the often repeated wisdom is "outside is better for tortoises..." It isn't. Not for babies. Babies kept mostly outside grow at half to one third the rate of their clutch mates kept mostly indoors on the same amount of the same food, with the same soaking routine and in similarly sized enclosures with similar conditions. Babies outside also pyramid more then their primarily indoor clutchmates. Something about the stability and consistency of the great indoors is more conducive to having a thriving baby.

Outdoors may be better for adults in some ways. Its certainly easier to have adult in appropriately large enclosure outdoors, and that is how I house all of mine. I suspect if we did side-by-side comparisons of adults kept in properly set up, large indoor enclosures, they might also do "better" than their outdoor counterparts that are at the mercy of the cruel whims of Mother Nature. That would be much more difficult to assess or measure. We'd first have to define "better".

My weather here is great for babies. In years past I raised many tortoise babies mostly outdoors. We have 80+ degree days in January and February sometimes. Those babies are grew very slowly and had much pyramiding.

Even here on this forum, several members, including some from humid climates, reported markedly better results after moving their babies indoors to a large closed chamber, instead of the outdoor enclosures they were using. Your average tortoise keeper will never see this. You'd have to raise dozens of babies simultaneously in a variety of housing circumstances to see this. I've done that many times. Most people have one tortoise, and if its still alive, they feel they did it "right" and their way is to be recommended. They don't know what the results from doing it other ways would have been.
 

maggie3fan

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Maggie already knows what the answer is. She just wanted to hear me say it. :)
I'm sorry Violanna, I do know how Tom raises tortoises. There was no way for you to know that Tom is one of our most experienced members. He breeds tortoises at a commercial level. He definitely is a know it all. And your statement about him cracked me up. So I'll slink back to my corner now....
 

Violanna

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Because too much time outside is bad for babies. I've done many side by side comparisons because the often repeated wisdom is "outside is better for tortoises..." It isn't. Not for babies. Babies kept mostly outside grow at half to one third the rate of their clutch mates kept mostly indoors on the same amount of the same food, with the same soaking routine and in similarly sized enclosures with similar conditions. Babies outside also pyramid more then their primarily indoor clutchmates. Something about the stability and consistency of the great indoors is more conducive to having a thriving baby.

Outdoors may be better for adults in some ways. Its certainly easier to have adult in appropriately large enclosure outdoors, and that is how I house all of mine. I suspect if we did side-by-side comparisons of adults kept in properly set up, large indoor enclosures, they might also do "better" than their outdoor counterparts that are at the mercy of the cruel whims of Mother Nature. That would be much more difficult to assess or measure. We'd first have to define "better".

My weather here is great for babies. In years past I raised many tortoise babies mostly outdoors. We have 80+ degree days in January and February sometimes. Those babies are grew very slowly and had much pyramiding.

Even here on this forum, several members, including some from humid climates, reported markedly better results after moving their babies indoors to a large closed chamber, instead of the outdoor enclosures they were using. Your average tortoise keeper will never see this. You'd have to raise dozens of babies simultaneously in a variety of housing circumstances to see this. I've done that many times. Most people have one tortoise, and if its still alive, they feel they did it "right" and their way is to be recommended. They don't know what the results from doing it other ways would have been.
Love this!! So well said! I’ve been reading your posts and such on enclosures and raising tortoises for 2 years now haha. I’m definitely a ‘do your homework first’ type! Especially as a Veterinary student! Drives my husband crazy how insane I get about the science of animal husbandry!
 

Nash

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I never had a tortoise before I got mine and then it was a sulcata. I did every thing wrong the first 2 months I had him. It was then that I found this forum and changed EVERYTHING. My husband and I immediately made a 2X4ft. SEALED enclosure. I put a window with a caulking in the front so he could look out and we could look in. It had a top on it, it was SEALED!!! I put it up on a table in my living room. I misted him 2-3 times a day, soaked him daily. A couple times a week in the winter, when the weather was nice we would go outside TOGETHER. I never let him stay outside by himself, he was so very little. Bad things happen to them and actually they move pretty fast and before you know it they have blended in and you can lose him. No kidding. I turned my back once while reading my book and I couldn't find him. I panicked. He was right there, thank goodness. After that, I put cinder blocks in a circle on my dried up grass, it was winter. I I suggest you do something like this. Summer it isn't going to matter cuz again you will just take him out a couple times a week for the UV and fresh air. I did this for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. I got mine in November too. So it was the spring/summer after that we put ours outside. My husband and I had a tin made shed outside, I fixed it up EXACTLY the way his inside SEALED habitat was. NOTHING changed, except now we were covering a much larger area. It became very expensive. * I used warm mist humidifiers when we moved him outside to a 5X6ft. shed. I ran out every morning and filled them up. But this ISN'T perfect. He would get scales on his eyes, so every day I would go out with a salt water solution and q-tips and wash his eyes. I bought a wagon, (what's in the picture), we continued to soak him outside. I would run warm water that I got out of the house and filled the wagon up. I made a sealed cover for the wagon, it was like a sauna, this was in the winter. I immediately would put him back into his warm humid shed so he wouldn't catch pneumonia or something. I would let him soak for 30-45 minutes. I checked the temp of the water with my temp gun before I put him in. NOW REMEMBER I'M TALKING THE OUTSIDE SHED AFTER HE IS 3-ISH. We insulated the inside with 2 inch foam board, floor had 3/4 plywood on the bottom then a 2" foam board then another 3/4 plywood. I had a red heat mat, a heat panel 12-16 inches from the top of his shell AND a oil heater. Everything was set on either thermostat or timers. They each helped keep him warm in the winter. We put shower curtains all around the outside of the shed and then enclosed that with house siding, especially the door!!! It was sealed REALLY good! It sweat! The door weighed a lot but I managed every day. I'm in my middle 50's. When it was too cold for any length of time he had all of this and his UV light (uv light was on a timer, came on during the day and off at night) I'm just telling you what we ended up doing. Again when it was nice in the winter I would coax him out, he liked to eat some dead grass etc. and then on his own had enough and would go back in. I wouldn't soak him on those days. I would open his hatch door in the morning and CLOSE it at night. We had the vinyl freezer slats that he would go through on his hatch door. I DON'T suggest you start out this way. BE PREPARED, make one of Tom's 4X4 or 4X8 boxes. I disconnected everything in the summer except they heat panel and humidifiers. I had cool mist humidifiers for the summer but kept them running. I would encourage him to come out on good days. BUT this won't be until he is about 3 years old. We just built him one of Tom's 4X4 box. I needed to get away from my electric bill!!! And the water and he was getting too heavy for me to put in the wagon. Not only that he was getting too big for the wagon. He would try and get out. I was afraid of him falling, so I would start the sprinkler and let him romp in it IN the summer. We hadn't planned for soaking this winter. He is 6 now. And huge and destructive. My yard is about 1/2 of an acre. We put everything in raised gardens and planted everything he can eat. We don't use pesticides or weed killer. He continues to try to get out even though he can't see on the other side of the cinder blocks 2 and in some places 3 high. The other day he got wedged between my huge rose pot, my heavy duty lawn swing and the cinder blocks, sideways. We don't know why he just all of a sudden decided to do this. Maybe he didn't like the new 4x4 box?! And got angry? But I like it! He weighs about 40lbs now. It's going to be crazy as he gets older, stronger and heavier! I hope this helps. Maggie has Knobby she is dealing with too. Maybe you can find and read about Maggie's problem with Knobby. Good luck!
 

maggie3fan

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I never had a tortoise before I got mine and then it was a sulcata. I did every thing wrong the first 2 months I had him. It was then that I found this forum and changed EVERYTHING. My husband and I immediately made a 2X4ft. SEALED enclosure. I put a window with a caulking in the front so he could look out and we could look in. It had a top on it, it was SEALED!!! I put it up on a table in my living room. I misted him 2-3 times a day, soaked him daily. A couple times a week in the winter, when the weather was nice we would go outside TOGETHER. I never let him stay outside by himself, he was so very little. Bad things happen to them and actually they move pretty fast and before you know it they have blended in and you can lose him. No kidding. I turned my back once while reading my book and I couldn't find him. I panicked. He was right there, thank goodness. After that, I put cinder blocks in a circle on my dried up grass, it was winter. I I suggest you do something like this. Summer it isn't going to matter cuz again you will just take him out a couple times a week for the UV and fresh air. I did this for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. I got mine in November too. So it was the spring/summer after that we put ours outside. My husband and I had a tin made shed outside, I fixed it up EXACTLY the way his inside SEALED habitat was. NOTHING changed, except now we were covering a much larger area. It became very expensive. * I used warm mist humidifiers when we moved him outside to a 5X6ft. shed. I ran out every morning and filled them up. But this ISN'T perfect. He would get scales on his eyes, so every day I would go out with a salt water solution and q-tips and wash his eyes. I bought a wagon, (what's in the picture), we continued to soak him outside. I would run warm water that I got out of the house and filled the wagon up. I made a sealed cover for the wagon, it was like a sauna, this was in the winter. I immediately would put him back into his warm humid shed so he wouldn't catch pneumonia or something. I would let him soak for 30-45 minutes. I checked the temp of the water with my temp gun before I put him in. NOW REMEMBER I'M TALKING THE OUTSIDE SHED AFTER HE IS 3-ISH. We insulated the inside with 2 inch foam board, floor had 3/4 plywood on the bottom then a 2" foam board then another 3/4 plywood. I had a red heat mat, a heat panel 12-16 inches from the top of his shell AND a oil heater. Everything was set on either thermostat or timers. They each helped keep him warm in the winter. We put shower curtains all around the outside of the shed and then enclosed that with house siding, especially the door!!! It was sealed REALLY good! It sweat! The door weighed a lot but I managed every day. I'm in my middle 50's. When it was too cold for any length of time he had all of this and his UV light (uv light was on a timer, came on during the day and off at night) I'm just telling you what we ended up doing. Again when it was nice in the winter I would coax him out, he liked to eat some dead grass etc. and then on his own had enough and would go back in. I wouldn't soak him on those days. I would open his hatch door in the morning and CLOSE it at night. We had the vinyl freezer slats that he would go through on his hatch door. I DON'T suggest you start out this way. BE PREPARED, make one of Tom's 4X4 or 4X8 boxes. I disconnected everything in the summer except they heat panel and humidifiers. I had cool mist humidifiers for the summer but kept them running. I would encourage him to come out on good days. BUT this won't be until he is about 3 years old. We just built him one of Tom's 4X4 box. I needed to get away from my electric bill!!! And the water and he was getting too heavy for me to put in the wagon. Not only that he was getting too big for the wagon. He would try and get out. I was afraid of him falling, so I would start the sprinkler and let him romp in it IN the summer. We hadn't planned for soaking this winter. He is 6 now. And huge and destructive. My yard is about 1/2 of an acre. We put everything in raised gardens and planted everything he can eat. We don't use pesticides or weed killer. He continues to try to get out even though he can't see on the other side of the cinder blocks 2 and in some places 3 high. The other day he got wedged between my huge rose pot, my heavy duty lawn swing and the cinder blocks, sideways. We don't know why he just all of a sudden decided to do this. Maybe he didn't like the new 4x4 box?! And got angry? But I like it! He weighs about 40lbs now. It's going to be crazy as he gets older, stronger and heavier! I hope this helps. Maggie has Knobby she is dealing with too. Maybe you can find and read about Maggie's problem with Knobby. Good luck!
What a freakin love story between man and beast! I am so glad you took the time to put it out there. How do we get so involved in doing stuff for a darned tortoise? That really is a great story.
 

Nash

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Violanna, I forgot to mention too that the sealed inside habitat had a uv light, the CHE heat and a small regular bulb (that put off light and some heat, not much). I didn't want to burn his little shell. I surely didn't get as hot as those blasted heat lamps the pet store tell you to buy and that suck the life out of them and any moisture they might have in their little bodies. It was 12 inches above him. I would constantly make sure with my temp gun the temps were correct. He would lay under the regular bulb, again it didn't generate too much heat, I placed a piece of tile there. He loved it, he thought he was basking. The UV light was at the other end. He could go there if he wanted. His inside enclosure stayed about 80 degrees. The thermostats were outside his enclosure. I would turn them down to 75 at night and then with the timers, all the lights would go off. And in the morning, rise and shine. They were off. NOW I did have one of those large raisin boxes in the beginning when he was very small. He would go in there and hide. I put a little hay in there. As he got bigger I bought one of the black plastic boxes Tom uses and cut a hole in it and turned it upside down for him to hide in. I used cypress mulch all through out and a little sphagnum moss that was soaked really well. I rang it out but he loved that inside the black box. He had his tile and his basking (regular bulb) light. When we would leave for a few days, I would plant grass seed from Tortoise Supply in little 1"X 12" (I think is what they measured) aluminum pans. I would let them start to grow in dirt I had used a shifter on so there weren't any little rocks he could choke on. He loved that. He had his own lawn inside his enclosure. That worked real good in the winter too. I would make 2 of them and alternate them. When he got bigger and I didn't want to stay outside with him for a 1/2 a day, so we made him a 4ft.X4ft.x8inch box on stilts that raised him 4ft. off the ground. That way nothing could get him, like a snake or my dog! Although I kept him in a whole different yard than my dog, there is always that one time. I didn't want that to happen! I put tree mesh around the top and sides so nothing else could hurt him. He could either go into the sun and bask or in the shade. That box was next to my house for protection as well. I put regular dirt in it. Yep, I sifted that dirt too through a window screen. I didn't want him choking on anything. I was very protected. The things we do for a sulcata tortoise! Owning one isn't for the lighthearted! They are a lot of work, time and money.
 

Nash

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Again I learned all of this by reading what Tom, Yvonne, Mark would write. There are others out there too, that have good ideas. Tom has been a godsend. Listen to them, they care about you and your tortoise. You will be the best Vet Tech out there if you do. Good luck!
 

tortlvr

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I’ve been searching like crazy and finally found a local lumber yard that carries fir bark. Going to check it out this week. If that isn’t what I’m looking for I’ve found small bags of orchid bark at Lowe’s and a farm feed store. Or cypress mulch just about everywhere.
Be careful of Lowe's bark. The stuff I bought had vermiculite in it. Make sure it doesn't have any.
 
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