Sulcata food

 

Q: I have a Sulcata tortoise and want to know how to better care for it and/or set up a better enclosure  for  it. Can you give me some information?

A: There are several good links to tortoise-related sites on the web. As far as pen construction is concerned, the bigger the better. Some people with tiny yards do their best by giving the tortoises a corner of it, but this really is not enough. A single tortoise can live in a small area, but it will not thrive. Sulcatas like to roam over large areas and graze on a variety of grasses. They like to dig and hide. All these things are impossible in a little yard. It is possible to keep a baby cow alive in a crate and only feed it milk, but unless your planning on eating your tortoise, you should give it plenty of space. By the way, I don't advocate eating your tortoise. Open grassy areas should be provided, preferably with a wide variety of grasses available for grazing. Full sun and shade must be available at all times of day and clean water should also be in constant supply. Sulcatas like to stay relatively dry, so a rain-free area should be in place as well, preferably one that not only keeps off direct rain but also keep a lower general humidity (such as a dog house or similar shelter). Fencing must be strong and must be buried. The smaller your enclosure, the deeper the fence must be buried as your tortoise is more likely to dig along the fence as opposed to in the center of the enclosure. We provide houses for our tortoises under which they may dig as well as placing several big logs in the pen which give them a good starting place to dig. Ours almost never dig near the fences now. We have a concrete feeding slab which we like for feeding them occasional produce. It gives them a good clean surface to eat from and makes cleaning up uneaten food much easier. 

We used to keep our little ones in a baby pool (from wal-mart) with drain holes in the bottom, filled 1/2 way with dirt, then planted with grasses and hibiscus. It needs to have sun and shade available at all times. You can even put heavy wire mesh over the top and keep them outside day and night. When they get larger (over 6") you can fence them in. The heavy wire fencing (2" squares at the largest) should be buried at least 6" deep.

Many people in Florida choose to let their tortoises burrow rather than building them winter housing. Our experience shows that the temperatures in the northern half of Florida can get too cold for tortoises to do well. Also, there is the problem of the burrows caving in after a large rain - burrows can be quite large and very difficult to dig a tortoise out of. For this reason, we cave in all of our burrows before cold weather comes (of course, this is done once all of the tortoises are out and accounted for).



Below is a photo of our first outdoor tortoise lot.




Placing a piece of wood over the top of a burrow or a log above the entrance, can help prevent the burrow from caving in due to soil changes.



Here is an example of an enclosures that one of our readers sent in to us.




This is our most recent sulcata fencing. There is attached wire fencing which

is buried to prevent digging. We lined the fence with dwarf elephant grass.

The elephant grass is now thick and 4’ tall. This provides a wonderful visual

barrier.













Q: I would like to help your cause. Can I provide a home for one of the tortoises currently in your care?

A: No. If you are interested in obtaining a sulcata, do not buy one! There are plenty in need of homes. If you live in a warm state, contact www.turtlerescueusa.com and fill out an adoption application.



Q: Can I successfully keep a Sulcata indoors if I provide the proper nutrition?

A: The answer to this question depends on how theoretical you want to be, and on your definition of successful. The short answer is - no. If you kept your tortoise in a very large, properly heated indoor enclosure, provided it with fresh cut grasses and other greens, monitored the humidity and provided enough water for bathing as needed, treated it regularly for the diseases that easily occur in stressed tortoises, and provided it with large amounts of full spectrum fluorescent lighting, then yes, you could keep a Sulcata alive for a long time in a miserable existence. (UV bulbs do not do the same thing that the sun that God created does.) That's not my definition of successful. That's not to say that those of you in cooler climates cannot keep them well. If you keep your tortoise in an indoor pen at night or when it's cold, or even throughout the winter, you can still do OK by your pet. As long as it gets to spend a majority of its life outside. We kept our smallest tortoises indoors at night when the temperature was going to drop below 55 degrees at night, but as soon as it hit 60 degrees in the morning they're back outside. We have had cold seasons where they were stuck inside for weeks at a time, and they all do fine. But they sure are happy to get out again when it warms up, even if it's just for a few hours. If you live in a region that has long cold winters (i.e. most of the U.S.) Sulcata tortoises probably aren't the best choice of pet. Consider a Russian tortoise or Greek tortoise if it's not too late. They are smaller and have much better cold tolerance.



This was Fancy, one of the sweet tortoises at our rescue. She had very loving owners, but you can see some of the shell malformations that can occur in Sulcatas that are not allowed to live outside due to cold weather and are not able to graze.



Q: What do you do when it gets cold outside?

A: Our tortoises have heated houses. The small tortoises have a house that we built. It is about 90sq.ft and 2 feet in height. It has ceramic heat bulbs in on the ceiling and heavy plastic flappers over the door way. The larger tortoises are in a horse stall that we converted into a tortoise house. We built a rail about 3 feet off the ground all the way around the stall with a housed space heater in the middle. The space heater is controlled by a thermostat that is on the wall. We placed 3" Styrofoam insulation sheets on the rails. This creates a low insulated ceiling. This house also has the heavy plastic flappers over the doorway. We go out on cold nights to make sure all of the tortoises have found their way into the house.




Q :What do you feed your tortoises?

A : I rarely feed them at all. They feed themselves nicely, thank you. They graze on grasses as they want and other occasional weeds.  The majority of their diet should come from grazing. (A good test for this is to look at their droppings. They should look very grassy. We sell an excellent seed mix and elephant grass for your tortoises. We hope to be adding some other plants to what we sell next spring. Click here to view our sale page. A mix high in clover is preferred for forest tortoises - but desert tortoises, like the sulcata, prefer more of a grassy mix.

These are desert animals. They do best if they graze on grasses. They also love spineless prickly pear cactus pads (I bought some at our grocery store and planted it upright in sandy soil in the sun). Also, hibiscus flowers and leaves are great. Feed lettuce and other veggies and fruit sparingly. They should only make up no more than 5% of their diet. Never feed a tortoise any kind of meat product. They are strictly vegetarians. Pumpkins and banana leaves are another favorite. We grow pumpkins every year for the tortoises - it is actually beneficial for them!

For hingebacks, russians, and red/yellow foots, you will need to provide fruits as well as occasional snails or other protein.


While veggies and fruits make a nice treat - grazing is the best thing you can provide for your sulcata, nutritionally. Fruits and veggies contain too much moisture and can cause health problems if given on a regular basis.



Please visit our seed shop. www.sulcatafood.com. We still offer some of the lowest prices on the best quality seed and supplements available on the web.



Q : Do you breed your tortoises?

A : No. We are not opposed to breeding tortoises in captivity. We simply do not think that there is any need for more Sulcatas in the pet industry, or any other industry, to justify breeding at this time.



Q : How expensive are Sulcatas to maintain?

A : It depends on a lot of factors. A really good setup for a Sulcata will keep your maintenance cost to a minimum. We actually spend very little money on ours considering how many we have. Our expenses are: electricity to heat winter houses, occasional additions to the pen (new house, new water pool, etc.), fence maintenance, and time. The last of which is the only one of any significance, and that's not a whole lot. (If you lived where it was colder, heating may be more, but Florida isn't bad.) The time requirements are really just spending time with the tortoises. They need to get to know you and they need to be observed for general health. If you keep a Sulcata under poor conditions, your expenses will go up dramatically. A decent indoor enclosure would cost several hundred dollars just to begin with. Lighting and medications would also get expensive. As with most animals, poor living conditions cause lots of stress and stress leads to susceptibility to disease. A vet bill for a giant tortoise can be astronomical, if you can find a vet qualified to help. If you can't, then you have burial expenses as well.



Q : How quickly do Sulcatas grow?

A : There is a very popular saying about goldfish that says they will only grow to the size of the bowl you keep them in. This is actually true to a certain extent. If you put a goldfish whose genetic code tells it to grow to be 24 inches long as an adult and stick it into a bowl of unfiltered water with a diameter of 8 inches, that fish will not grow to be 24 inches long. The poor water conditions and stress will slow its growth and the fish will die long before its mature. The same is true of tortoises. If you keep a  Sulcata in a 20 gallon glass aquarium, he will not grow to be 200 pounds. He will also not live to be 75 years old (he may be lucky to make it to age 4). He will also not be very happy (I realize here that I am being somewhat anthropomorphic, but I am equating the "happiness" of  the tortoise to its overall health and well-being). A well cared for Sulcata will about double in size every year for the first four or five years and then slow down. My oldest is about 12 years old and he is over a hundred pounds.

A while back, we kept a growth chart of some of our tortoises...

tortoise growth chart.xls


Q: Do you allow visitors to your facilities?

A: At this time, we do not allow visitors, however, we can arrange for local pick-up of purchases for those ordering plants.


Q: If I decide my tortoise has outgrown my resources, what are my options?

A: One option is to find someone local who has better facilities (or more resources), and allow them to take over the care of your tortoise. Preferably it is someone you know well and can trust. If not, consider signing a legal agreement with them that will allow you to regain possession of your tortoise if you feel they are not providing adequate care. Then follow up with several visits. If that option isn't available, you can send your tortoise to a rescue/adoption facility. When choosing a rescue/adoption facility, consider what that facility has to offer. Find out what the climate is like there, get pictures of the enclosure(s), see if they charge anything for keeping the tortoise, can you visit the facility before or after donating the tortoise? Ask lots of questions and be suspicious if they can't or won't answer them. Then you can choose exactly where to send your pet.

www.turtlerescueusa.com- a tortoise adoption agency.


Q: What do I need to do to send a tortoise to you?

A :We are currently not accepting new residents. We had a wonderful rescue years ago. We grew very close to the tortoises owners and they were like family to us when our daughter had a major health crisis. When we moved to Ecuador in 2007, we contacted to owners of the tortoises to find out if they would like to reclaim their tortoises or have them move to another rescue south of us. All of them chose to relocate the tortoises to the other rescue. We miss all of the faces of the tortoises that we grew to love. We knew them by their faces, shells and personalities. We are back in the US now, but will not be starting back up the rescue.





Back to main page