How deep should orchid bark substrate be in my 3 yr old desert tortoise's enclosures?

mylittlecholla

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I've read Tom's guide and plan to replace the substrate I have with orchid bark.

Cholla has two enclosures, one outside, one inside.

Regarding the outside enclosure, it has two levels, The upper level Cholla can access either by climbing flat rocks of graduated sizes, or by a wooden ramp. In creating the "upstairs" area I followed the advice from another tortoise source that advised to create a substrate composed of 60% clean fine play sand mixed with 40% "loam." Now I'm worried that this was bad advice. I know the pet store sand they tried to sell me when I first got Cholla as a hatchling was bogus and dangerous, as she could ingest it. But 3 years later the "play sand" and "loam" guy (not a pet store clerk) seemed authoritative. The mixture is more solid than loose.

The mixture does create a surface very much like that seen in much of the Mojave Desert. Nevertheless I never put her food up there. She does have a burrow up there made with a black plastic flower pot sunk half way down into the substrate, which forms a sandy loamy "floor" that she seems to like to dig and shovel when she's crawling in there. It all seemed pretty neat, but now, having read advice in this forum, I'm concerned that the "play sand/loam" mixture is a mistake. I confess the loam came from our garden (no fertilizers or pesticides, but as some of you point out, there could be other bad stuff in there that I don't know about. And maybe it's just too dry.

SO . . . what do y'allthink? I'll replace it with orchid bark asap if that's the consensus, but I do need to know how deep it should be in the outdoor enclosure.

Many thanks for any input.
 

Hamiltondood

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you should definitely replace your substrate with orchid bark as soon as you can..
sand isnt recommended for tortoises since it could impact your tortoise.
if you like the "dirt" look, try coco coir, its a bit messy but great if you add a bit of orchid bark.
how big are your enclosures?
 

mylittlecholla

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Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
Fillmore, California
you should definitely replace your substrate with orchid bark as soon as you can..
sand isnt recommended for tortoises since it could impact your tortoise.
if you like the "dirt" look, try coco coir, its a bit messy but great if you add a bit of orchid bark.
how big are your enclosures?
 

mylittlecholla

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Fillmore, California
Thanks so much for your reply. I will definitely replace that sand-loam substrate and use the orchid bark instead. It's oo bad about her little fake "desert" level, but better safe than sorry.

Cholla's outside enclosure is six feet long and two feet wide. Don't worry, we will be expanding it!!! The current set up seemed okay for her babyhood, but we're going to triple the size this spring (Eventually we'll give her most of our side yard, but that's not for another year.) The height of the outdoor enclosure is two feet.

The indoor enclosure she pretty much uses only a night, or in bad weather, or when she's brumating. She's definitely outgrown it, however We're about to replace it now. She pretty much uses it only at night or when brumating.
replacement enclosure will be about 51" long and 24" wide. The height of the indoor enclosure will be 16 inches.

My husband and son-in-law will be building it, the the above are approximations.

Again, many thanks.
 

Tom

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Thanks so much for your reply. I will definitely replace that sand-loam substrate and use the orchid bark instead. It's oo bad about her little fake "desert" level, but better safe than sorry.

Cholla's outside enclosure is six feet long and two feet wide. Don't worry, we will be expanding it!!! The current set up seemed okay for her babyhood, but we're going to triple the size this spring (Eventually we'll give her most of our side yard, but that's not for another year.) The height of the outdoor enclosure is two feet.

The indoor enclosure she pretty much uses only a night, or in bad weather, or when she's brumating. She's definitely outgrown it, however We're about to replace it now. She pretty much uses it only at night or when brumating.
replacement enclosure will be about 51" long and 24" wide. The height of the indoor enclosure will be 16 inches.

My husband and son-in-law will be building it, the the above are approximations.

Again, many thanks.
I see a few problems and misunderstandings here:

-What size is Cholla? They all grow at different rates, so the age doesn't tell us much.
-Definitely remove the sand and the loam. That is old outdated advice from someone who hasn't kept up and is still using decades old wrong info.
-No need for "substrate" outside. Just use the native Fillmore dirt. That is what I use in my outdoor enclosures.
-I don't know how small the original indoor enclosure was, but the minimum for a baby should be the size of what you are making now. 51x24 inches is okay for a little hatchling, but not for a normal 3 year old.
-The tortoise brumated inside in the little enclosure? They need consistent cold temps to brute/hibernate. Was the enclosure at room temp? Did you still have heat lamps on it?

It sounds like you've gotten some mixed info and some of the typical bad tips from somewhere. I hope we can help make things better.
 

mylittlecholla

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Joined
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Messages
225
Location (City and/or State)
Fillmore, California
I see a few problems and misunderstandings here:

-What size is Cholla? They all grow at different rates, so the age doesn't tell us much.
-Definitely remove the sand and the loam. That is old outdated advice from someone who hasn't kept up and is still using decades old wrong info.
-No need for "substrate" outside. Just use the native Fillmore dirt. That is what I use in my outdoor enclosures.
-I don't know how small the original indoor enclosure was, but the minimum for a baby should be the size of what you are making now. 51x24 inches is okay for a little hatchling, but not for a normal 3 year old.
-The tortoise brumated inside in the little enclosure? They need consistent cold temps to brute/hibernate. Was the enclosure at room temp? Did you still have heat lamps on it?

It sounds like you've gotten some mixed info and some of the typical bad tips from somewhere. I hope we can help make things better.
 

mylittlecholla

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Messages
225
Location (City and/or State)
Fillmore, California
Thank you, Tom. Yes, definitely mixed info, and I want fix what needs to be fixed to do right by Cholla.

Good to hear that it's ok to use Fillmore dirt for the outdoor enclosure. Glad to hear it, b/c someone else on this forum said soil from one's yard could be full of creepy bacteria and nasty little ova that could infect/infest my tortoise. So I was feeling freaked out about letting her live on our own soil. (No fertilizer where she is; no pesticides used in our yard at all.)

Her size: nose to tail about 6 inches. Her carapace is about 4 inches wide. I imagine there are more exact and useful tways to measure and express her dimensions, but I hope this description helps a little, for now.

Yes, indoor encl. is at room temperature during day. Yes, a heat lamp at night on her indoor enclosure. Night temp. is maintained around 70 degrees.

I'm sad to learn that her an indoor enclosure that's too small even for a hatchling. She does live there pretty much only at night or in wet or /cold weather, and she has a platform to climb up on, but apparently we need a significantly expanded indoor habitat for her. It will be a challenge, as we have a small house, but we'll get creative and deal with it. If her indoor enclosure is not as long or wide as it should be, can we compensate for that by building her a ramp to a second level?

Apologies for all the questions. Your knowledge, corrections and advice are welcome.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
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Joined
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Messages
54,104
Location (City and/or State)
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Thank you, Tom. Yes, definitely mixed info, and I want fix what needs to be fixed to do right by Cholla.

Good to hear that it's ok to use Fillmore dirt for the outdoor enclosure. Glad to hear it, b/c someone else on this forum said soil from one's yard could be full of creepy bacteria and nasty little ova that could infect/infest my tortoise. So I was feeling freaked out about letting her live on our own soil. (No fertilizer where she is; no pesticides used in our yard at all.)

Her size: nose to tail about 6 inches. Her carapace is about 4 inches wide. I imagine there are more exact and useful tways to measure and express her dimensions, but I hope this description helps a little, for now.

Yes, indoor encl. is at room temperature during day. Yes, a heat lamp at night on her indoor enclosure. Night temp. is maintained around 70 degrees.

I'm sad to learn that her an indoor enclosure that's too small even for a hatchling. She does live there pretty much only at night or in wet or /cold weather, and she has a platform to climb up on, but apparently we need a significantly expanded indoor habitat for her. It will be a challenge, as we have a small house, but we'll get creative and deal with it. If her indoor enclosure is not as long or wide as it should be, can we compensate for that by building her a ramp to a second level?

Apologies for all the questions. Your knowledge, corrections and advice are welcome.
We are all here to talk tortoises. If no one asked questions, there would be a heck of a lot less conversation. :)

I've never used anything but the native dirt for outdoor enclosures. This goes for tiny hatchings of all species, all the way up through giant adults, and everything in between. You don't have to worry about the soil bacteria or ova that might be there. Not even remotely a concern. Like this:
IMG_7229.JPG
IMG_8962.JPG

Your size estimation is close enough, and sounds pretty normal for the age. The way we usually do it is to put a tape measure up to a wall, push the tortoise up to the wall over the tape measure, and look down over the butt to get the measurement. We call this SCL, or straight carapace length. Like this:
IMG_0955.jpg
Your way is fine too, and weight is a good way to go also. Most of us weigh in grams.


Room temp is fine for this species at night, and with a warm basking area for daytime. Room temp is not okay for hibernation though. If you want to hibernate, you'll need cool consistent low temps around 50 degrees for this species. Best to use a pre-set, correctly adjusted fridge for this purpose since our winter weather is so inconsistent.

I'm not a big fan of multilevel tortoise enclosures, but it can work sometimes. Best to just give them the room they need. In our climate, its so easy to just have them live outside full time once they are big enough, like yours. With a night box you can easily adjust the heat all year long to make it ideal for them. You can get them in and out of hibernation easier and better, with little concern for whatever the weather is doing, and house them safely all year. I know you've seen it, but all of that is explained here in the care sheet:

This is the way I would go for a DT that size and in our climate. If you want to keep Cholla up this year, and you can make a large table to get him/her through the winter, you could move Cholla outside when it warms up in spring. This would give you lots of time to build the box, run the heating and stuff, and really get things set up the right way.
IMG_7256.JPG
 

mylittlecholla

Active Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2020
Messages
225
Location (City and/or State)
Fillmore, California
We are all here to talk tortoises. If no one asked questions, there would be a heck of a lot less conversation. :)

I've never used anything but the native dirt for outdoor enclosures. This goes for tiny hatchings of all species, all the way up through giant adults, and everything in between. You don't have to worry about the soil bacteria or ova that might be there. Not even remotely a concern. Like this:
View attachment 310074
View attachment 310075

Your size estimation is close enough, and sounds pretty normal for the age. The way we usually do it is to put a tape measure up to a wall, push the tortoise up to the wall over the tape measure, and look down over the butt to get the measurement. We call this SCL, or straight carapace length. Like this:
View attachment 310073
Your way is fine too, and weight is a good way to go also. Most of us weigh in grams.


Room temp is fine for this species at night, and with a warm basking area for daytime. Room temp is not okay for hibernation though. If you want to hibernate, you'll need cool consistent low temps around 50 degrees for this species. Best to use a pre-set, correctly adjusted fridge for this purpose since our winter weather is so inconsistent.

I'm not a big fan of multilevel tortoise enclosures, but it can work sometimes. Best to just give them the room they need. In our climate, its so easy to just have them live outside full time once they are big enough, like yours. With a night box you can easily adjust the heat all year long to make it ideal for them. You can get them in and out of hibernation easier and better, with little concern for whatever the weather is doing, and house them safely all year. I know you've seen it, but all of that is explained here in the care sheet:

This is the way I would go for a DT that size and in our climate. If you want to keep Cholla up this year, and you can make a large table to get him/her through the winter, you could move Cholla outside when it warms up in spring. This would give you lots of time to build the box, run the heating and stuff, and really get things set up the right way.
View attachment 310076
 
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