Outdoor Accommodation in a Colder (UK) Climate

JoesMum

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@JoesMum hi Linda, can you tell me more about your kennel? Did you insulate it with foam or just the reflective material? Also where did you purchase it, ive seen similar on eBay?
Also if there was going to be a prolonged spell of say rain, for a few days or more, what would Joe do? Would he stay in the cold frame or would you put him in the kennel?
Thank you
I got it from Amazon (flat packed) and only used the silver reflective stuff. This kennel was never intended as a warm night shelter and was not sufficiently well insulated for that. It was simply intended as a basking place.

I you buy a kennel, I recommend getting one with a hinged roof so you have easy access from above.
 

JoesMum

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@JoesMum hi Linda, can you tell me more about your kennel? Did you insulate it with foam or just the reflective material? Also where did you purchase it, ive seen similar on eBay?
Also if there was going to be a prolonged spell of say rain, for a few days or more, what would Joe do? Would he stay in the cold frame or would you put him in the kennel?
Thank you
Joe was out 24/7 from the word go apart from the chilliest of nights in spring and autumn.

He spent the night under straw in his cold frame and in cool and/or wet weather, I would simply haul him out and stick him under the lamp in the kennel. As he was so big, a few days of less activity and eating wouldn’t do any harm.
 

katieandiggy

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Joe was out 24/7 from the word go apart from the chilliest of nights in spring and autumn.

He spent the night under straw in his cold frame and in cool and/or wet weather, I would simply haul him out and stick him under the lamp in the kennel. As he was so big, a few days of less activity and eating wouldn’t do any harm.
Thank you!
I’m considering adopting a large Greek, 40+ years old so I’m thinking it would be a similar situation to Joe, I need to double check with previous owners to confirm that she did stay out in the way Joe did.
 

JoesMum

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Thank you!
I’m considering adopting a large Greek, 40+ years old so I’m thinking it would be a similar situation to Joe, I need to double check with previous owners to confirm that she did stay out in the way Joe did.
Undoubtedly a wild caught pre CITES, exactly as Joe was. Age will be a guess.

Follow what the current owner does within reason. These torts generally come out of hibernation and then pretty much love wild in the garden otherwise. Joe was spoiled ;)
 

Polly

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Background

We live in the UK and have had our Greek, Joe, a male Testudo Graeca Graeca (TGG), since 1970. He is full grown, weighing in at around 3.2kg (7lb) and measures just over 26cm (10”) Straight Carapace Length (SCL)

He would have been wild caught, so was not a baby when he joined the family.

Joe is a “garden tortoise” living outdoors from when he comes out of hibernation, usually March-April, until he goes back into hibernation which can be any time from mid-October onwards. In recent years late November to early December has been typical.

For a tortoise of Joe’s size, there are few predators in the UK that could be a problem to him. If you have a smaller animal, and depending on where you live, then you need to be aware that creatures like foxes, badgers, buzzards, red kite and rats could all be a potential risk.

I have put this document together in an attempt to collate my tips for keeping a tortoise outdoors and healthy when temperatures and weather are not always ideal. I am not using this to offer advice about food, water or hibernation though all 3 get a mention. This is not the only way to do it. It is what we have used successfully for many years.


Climate

We live in Kent in the South East of England where the weather is generally warmer and dryer than much of the UK. However, we do get the cold and the rain, especially in the spring and autumn. Like the rest of the UK, the weather is unpredictable and what happens cannot be guaranteed from one week to the next, sometimes from one hour to the next.

When the sun is out, temperatures at ground level in a sheltered spot are considerably hotter than the air temperature shown on the weather forecast. As with keeping a tort indoors, what harms a tort is being cold and/or wet for an extended period - even getting caught out in a cold shower is unlikely to harm your tort; they happen in the wild from time to time too. Obviously care needs to be taken to ensure that there's no flood risk.

Joe could not live outdoors for this entire period without some help from us. The cool mornings of spring and autumn in particular do not provide enough basking heat for him to get started.


Post hibernation

I look for the air temperature rising to about 11C (53F) by day before Joe is brought out of hibernation. Accuweather’s website for your town gives you a pretty good indication of trends.

When I get him up, he gets a long warm soak immediately and continues to get one twice a day until he is clearly fully awake and eating and drinking properly.

At my herp vet’s recommendation, I add Reptoboost electrolyte to his soaking water in this period to help counteract the dehydration of hibernation.

Depending on the weather outside, Joe will spend much of his time in our conservatory doing very little at first; the floor is cleared of all objects he could eat or attempt to mate with just in case. After a few days, he will do an enormous pee with a load of urate, and probably a poop, and the eating and drinking kicks backs in.

Joe under the Basking Lamp in the conservatory. UVB lighting is not necessary as Joe spends so little time indoors.

View attachment 171773


Basking outdoors

A tortoise, being cold blooded, needs to absorb heat from an external source in order to be active and also to digest food. If the sun is out then everything is great and a well-basked tortoise can be literally hot to handle.

A larger tort like Joe takes longer to cool down than a small one. A good charge under the basking lamp can last him a couple of hours on a cold day. Smaller torts will need to bask more frequently.

If the night is too cold then it takes much longer for a tort to warm up and become active which reduces the amount of time available for it to eat and digest.

In spring and autumn, it can be assumed that the nights will be cold, frost is a risk, and that the mornings will be chilly; some days the sun will be amazing and some days it will rain or worse all day. You must be constantly aware of the forecast and be ready to react to it.


Garden Adaptations

Cold Frame

Your tort needs a good start to the day. Keep him indoors (a box will do) overnight if there’s any risk of frost. If he sleeps outdoors, he needs to be dry and protected from the cold. For this we have a Cold Frame located in a spot in the garden that gets the sun first thing.

If using a cold frame, make sure that rain water doesn't drain through it. Locate it in a sheltered spot, against a fence say, so that the earth underneath it stays dry when it's raining.

Joe usually chooses to sleep in it, but when he doesn’t then I wait until he’s clearly cooled down and then pop him in. Do it too early and he’ll simply go and sleep elsewhere.

Joe’s original was a garden centre cold frame with a perspex (plexiglass) roof – this one was built by my father in law. It has no floor as he likes to dig into the bare earth and has straw in one end so he can push under it. The area in front of the door is empty and a popular basking spot

View attachment 171774
View attachment 171775

The cold frame is great for the mornings in the summer, but in the spring it doesn’t provide enough heat to charge up a tortoise for the day ahead.

Dog Kennel with a Basking Lamp

We have lined this with silver reflective insulation. The roof is hinged and we put a plastic mat on the floor to make cleaning easier. It came with the clear door curtain which helps keep the interior warmer. There’s also a water bowl. The lamp is on a timer, so the kennel is warming up by the time I put Joe in it to start the day. Joe can return to the kennel at any time during the day if he chooses to bask again. Note the step: Joe is big and can climb; smaller torts may need a ramp!

View attachment 171776

Blue Slate Chips

Tortoises know where the warm spots are and will gravitate toward them. Typically they are sheltered by plants, they don’t like to feel exposed, and get full sun. The sun isn’t that warm early and late in the year, so we have laid Blue Slate Chips on the ground. These absorb what little heat is around surprisingly quickly and Joe loves lying on them as he basks.

View attachment 171777

If Joe’s starting to find it a bit hot, he will move so that only part of his plastron rests on the stone chips. This picture was taken on a cold day in April when it snowed later in the day – he still managed to get a bit too warm! View attachment 171778

I have started a thread showing the effect of Blue Slate on temperature. It can be found here:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/demonstrating-the-effect-of-blue-slate-on-temperature.141716/


Ongoing

As the year rolls on, the weather does progressively get better in theory and Joe is able to be outdoors 24/7 without extra help from a lamp or soaks.

However, a prolonged wet and chilly spell isn’t unusual at any time. A couple of days of inactivity due to bad weather will do no harm, it happens in the wild, but if the outlook is that the poor weather will be more prolonged then the kennel heat lamp is pressed back into action.

Winding down for Hiibernation

You must keep an eye on your tortoise’s weight throughout the year. There should be a steady gain throughout, probably levelling out late August.

Joe hibernates, so he needs to maintain his peak weight right up until he’s boxed for the winter. By using the heat lamp in his kennel, I find Joe will keep right on eating and slow down of his own accord when the time is right.

Please remember that he has always hibernated and we have learned over many years to read him and the weather forecast together to know when the time is right for hibernation.

Joe will start to eat less as the days grow shorter and the weather cools. He is also less active in the garden. Gradually he will stop eating completely. Most importantly though, there will be little or no weight loss during this period.

I look for the weather forecast to show me daytime temperatures below 10C (50F) for the week ahead before I’ll hibernate Joe. It is not unusual for the first frost of the winter to be the night Joe is packed away.
 

Polly

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I'm rather late to this party but this article it's brilliant - thank you.
Buddy is still small as he's really still a baby marginated, but we'd love him to eventually have the freedom of our garden, which is fully enclosed, though frequented by cats. At the moment we only put him out when it is warm and we are home
 

gtc

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This is my new outdoor balcony enclosure. I finished it about a week ago. Location: south of Norway. June-july average daytime temps 18C-20C. Night time temps dip to about 10C for a few hours. 20190525_132237.jpg

I added a bunch of hay to the coldframe and he sleeps under it every night. Waterbowl was also added after I took the picture. Daytime temps in the coldframe reach about 26-31C when the sun is out. He has lived in the outdoor enclosure for about a week now. He was quite active the first 4 days, but the last 2 days I haven't seen him up (I have a motion activated outdoor camera that sends push notifications when he moves around).

Should I put him back inside due to his inactivity the last 2 days, or are the temps OK and I should just give him some time?
 

JoesMum

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This is my new outdoor balcony enclosure. I finished it about a week ago. Location: south of Norway. June-july average daytime temps 18C-20C. Night time temps dip to about 10C for a few hours. View attachment 273805

I added a bunch of hay to the coldframe and he sleeps under it every night. Waterbowl was also added after I took the picture. Daytime temps in the coldframe reach about 26-31C when the sun is out. He has lived in the outdoor enclosure for about a week now. He was quite active the first 4 days, but the last 2 days I haven't seen him up (I have a motion activated outdoor camera that sends push notifications when he moves around).

Should I put him back inside due to his inactivity the last 2 days, or are the temps OK and I should just give him some time?
If it is dropping to 10C or less at night then I would recommend either pulling him inside once he has settled (just in a box will do) so he doesn’t get too cold.

The alternative is putting your tort under a heat lamp to get him warmed up quickly in the mornings before letting the cold frame take over.
 

gtc

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If it is dropping to 10C or less at night then I would recommend either pulling him inside once he has settled (just in a box will do) so he doesn’t get too cold.

The alternative is putting your tort under a heat lamp to get him warmed up quickly in the mornings before letting the cold frame take over.

Thank you. What is the minimum night temp for leaving your tortoise outside all night and not using a heat lamp?
 

JoesMum

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Thank you. What is the minimum night temp for leaving your tortoise outside all night and not using a heat lamp?
There is no exact figure as much depends on how quickly the day warms up next day and also on the size of your tortoise(see comment in my post about how bigger tortoises retain their body temperature better)

Below 10C is a hibernation temperature.

I would be very careful until temperatures are above 15C day and night.

If the weather is slow to warm up and get sunny next day then your tortoise may still need a heat lamp even if it was 20C overnight.

Remember, that tortoises cannot be active, eat or digest their food until they have raised their body temperature with basking. That means full direct sunshine for a period of time using a lamp where the temperature at tortoise-level directly under it is 36-38C.
 

Bigred1974

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We also live in the U.K. ( Manchester). Could you point me in the direction of where you bought the cold frame from please? My Russian is only 2 years old ( just) so we have her in if an evening and she goes out on a sunny day and we have lots blue slate - I will see if she likes it. Thanks
 

JoesMum

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We also live in the U.K. ( Manchester). Could you point me in the direction of where you bought the cold frame from please? My Russian is only 2 years old ( just) so we have her in if an evening and she goes out on a sunny day and we have lots blue slate - I will see if she likes it. Thanks
@Bigred1974 My original cold frame came from Homebase. When we came to replace it the first time, my father in law built a replacement as we couldn’t find another similar online and the third was a custom build by a pet housing company that has since ceased trading.

The frame has a hinged, perspex roof and has no floor as tortoises likes to dig into the earth.

This was the second one prior to replacement. The measurements of this one are: Length 80cm, Depth 50cm, Height at back 35cm, Height at front, 26cm, Door width 30cm.

IMG_0472.jpg
IMG_0473.jpg

A fully glazed cold frame could work by being propped on bricks with a gap to create an entrance
 

Bigred1974

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That’s great, thanks. I will look into this. My Dad is quite handy as well so will show him the photos Nd hopefully together we can come up with something similar.
 

Heidilou

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I've just taken delivery of Joe's new cold frame - built to order by UK pet housing company. I think this may be their first tortoise job :)
View attachment 177438

I really need to prune that Japanese Maple. It's getting too big for its boots :D
thats lovely... can I ask how much that cost please? I had no idea about cold houses until I read this thread! xx
 

1289Gabe

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This is my new outdoor balcony enclosure. I finished it about a week ago. Location: south of Norway. June-july average daytime temps 18C-20C. Night time temps dip to about 10C for a few hours. View attachment 273805

I added a bunch of hay to the coldframe and he sleeps under it every night. Waterbowl was also added after I took the picture. Daytime temps in the coldframe reach about 26-31C when the sun is out. He has lived in the outdoor enclosure for about a week now. He was quite active the first 4 days, but the last 2 days I haven't seen him up (I have a motion activated outdoor camera that sends push notifications when he moves around).

Should I put him back inside due to his inactivity the last 2 days, or are the temps OK and I should just give him some time?
I would use a CHE lamp to heat him at night. They will keep your buddy nice and toasty.
 

bouaboua

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All I can say is WOW! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Love it! ! ! !
 

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