Help needed please.

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Sarahe999
Posts: 6
Joined: 21 Sep 2021, 17:18

Help needed please.

Post by Sarahe999 » 21 Sep 2021, 17:36

Hello everyone,
I now have a horsfield tortoise, as he needed someone to take him in. He’s about 6 years old, about 6inches long and very cute.

I haven’t had a tortoise before and I need to quickly learn everything about keeping him. I’m doing my best but have a million questions and just want to do whatever’s best for him.

He’s currently in a vivarium (from his last home). I now know that’s not where he should be and we’re going to get him in a table ASAP, but we’d like to make sure it’s what he needs. I’m reading this forum as fast as I can, but we’d like to get his new home built quickly.Can anyone help answer our questions please?

We’re planning a table at least 2m by 1m and with a small second level.
What sort of wood do we need?
How high should the walls be?
How big should his hide box be?
Will one combined bulb be ok or do we need a uv tube too? I know he needs to be at the correct basking temperature under it. The house has the heating on at a 18-20 degree constant so he should be fine over night.
We’d like to have plants - we don’t have any in the garden but I’ve read shop bought are often sprayed, is there a way to get some safe ones?
We’ve swapped him to a proper substrate and I’ve read that we can used sterilised soil and kiddy sand. How deep should it be and how often should we change it?
Can we embed a tray as a water bath for him to paddle in? If so how big?

Any advice would be gratefully received. We just want a happy, healthy tortoise.

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Nina
Posts: 1577
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Nina » 21 Sep 2021, 19:27

Hi Sarah and welcome to The Tortoise Table!

Congratulations on welcoming this Horsfield into your home (lol and also on spelling Horsfield correctly -- most people starting out spell it Horsefield).

I'm really impressed with the research you've done so far, and it sounds to me like you're going to make an excellent tortoise keeper. Do keep asking lots of questions -- it's the best way to learn -- and I'll try and answer the ones you've posted so far.

First of all, here's a link to a care sheet for Horsfields: https://www.tortoise-protection-group.o ... 014New.pdf

Regarding your plans for a table -- yes, do get him out of that vivarium as soon as you can, and in the meantime if it has sliding doors at the front you can maybe open them and put a little barrier up so that he can't escape, or just take the doors out and set the whole thing into a bigger box so that he gets better air circulation and temperature variation (have attached a photo of what I mean). But this should only be a temporary measure as a good table with a second level is the best option.

The sides of the table should be high enough that if he is standing upright on his hind legs his front feet won't touch the top (they are amazing climbers and can scale vertical surfaces if they have a foothold). Also don't make the second level too big (mine is larger than it needs to be). The reason is that the space under that second level is usually a sleeping area and is of course dark, so it's kind of wasted in the daytime, and tortoises tend to prefer to snuggle into a very small space to sleep (mine only occasionally use that area to sleep in, but more usually go into those bendy log things that you can buy in pet shops, and they barely fit in but love it). So the second level just needs to be big enough for him to climb up a ramp and walk around a little bit (I feed mine up there so they are always going up and down to see if there's a treat for them).

The size you are thinking of is excellent (and you can even make it in an 'L' shape if you want to fit it round a corner or something). The kind of wood you use doesn't matter much, but I would advise against pine, as that can sometimes give off fumes when it gets warm. It's good to line the bottom of the table (and up the sides to the level of where the substrate will be) with something waterproof, like rubber pool liner, for easy cleaning and so that wood doesn't get wet from wee or spilled water.

Regarding heating and lighting, the all-in-one mercury vapour heat/light/and UVB bulbs are fine; or you can use a regular bulb (say 80 or 100W), plus a UVB fluorescent tube. Here's a link to a page on our website that has a section on lighting (just scroll down): https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/tor ... UofLH3TWNI The table described there is really for hatchlings, so you need a much bigger one for your tortoise, but you can have a look at other parts of our articles on enclosures (in the Care section of the website).

Light and temperature are the most important things, and when you are making your table, ensure that the source of heat and light can be raised and lowered to increase or decrease the temperature as needed (when a room is very warm you might need to raise the lamp and when it's cool you might need to lower it. He shouldn't need any heat at night, really, as tortoises are used to a drop in temperature at night. You just need to hang the light from a chain that is suspended from an overhead arm, and then you can lengthen or shortend the chain. You want it to be 30C directly under the heat source and at the height of his shell, and 20C at the cool end.

You've got the right substrate now (topsoil and playsand) so well done with that too! Gosh you are doing so much right -- it's really a pleasure to hear from you! Make it as deep as you can (at least three or four inches), so that he can bury himself completely if he wants to. Horsfields are a burrowing species and they like nothing better than to make you panic after thinking they have somehow escaped or been stolen, but in fact they've just buried themselves. You will need to spray the substrate lightly every couple of days to keep it from getting dusty (or you can just pour some water on it every three or four days and mix it in well (but the result should be only the teeny tiniest bit damp -- not at all wet -- as they don't do well in wet situations). The soil-based substrate is easily spot cleaned and if you clean out the wee (the soil will be dark and clump together) and poo on a regular basis, you don't need to do a full change of substrate that often (I do mine about twice a year -- I probably should do it more frequently, but I do spot clean all the time.

You can try embedding a tray, but he will just track soil through it all the time and probably will never sit in it for a bath. You do need to have a water dish in there for him at all times (even if you never see him drinking from it), and I just use a plastic plant saucer and sink it in the substrate with the top sticking out a bit, and I have flat stones around it to keep the soil from getting in. You should bathe him once or twice a week, for 15 - 20 minutes, in warm water up to where his top shell meets his bottom shell, in a container he can't see out of (like an old washing up bowl). The added advantage of that is that they usually wee and poo in the bath, and that saves cleaning out the table too.

So sorry to have written such a long post! I hope I haven't put you off, but you asked really good questions and I wanted to give you full answers.

Are you sure of his sex? Send us some photos of him, including one of his underside, clearly showing his tail, and we will try and sex him for you (but you usually can't accurately sex them until they are six or seven years old.

Nina
[attachment=0]Viv Conversion.jpg[/attachment]
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Sarahe999
Posts: 6
Joined: 21 Sep 2021, 17:18

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Sarahe999 » 22 Sep 2021, 08:51

Thank you so much Nina,
Your reply was both helpful and encouraging. We needed really needed it and it really wasn’t too long.

We’re going to deepen his substrate and await the heart attacks that follow if he burrows in and we can’t see him. I didn’t expect him to be so much fun. My husband and I are really enjoying getting to know him.
We’re also going to order the wood and get on to making his table, now that we feel much more confident of what he needs, again thank you.
We’ve read the care sheets and given him one bath already, he seemed to enjoy it. And we’re doing what we can with temperature until his table’s made.

Can I ask some more questions here please? Apologies if they should go in a new thread.
Can I let him run around in the garden?

Where can I get things to feed him? I’ve bought some weed seeds and will get them sown, but in the mean time is there anything that I can buy please? I’m feeding him lambs lettuce, a little chard, dandelion leaves, a little cress and basil. I’ve checked the data base but I’m finding it difficult to find the feed freely foods.
I am adding calcium and nutrients to his food and feeding him about a handful a day. I hope that’s enough.

Again a big thank you from myself and my husband for your help. I’ll get some photos of him next time I bath him as no one is certain of his sex (they thought he was a she until a year ago)
Sarah

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Nina
Posts: 1577
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Nina » 22 Sep 2021, 11:47

Whew! Glad I didn't put you off and that you found the post useful :) .
It's amazing how much personality tortoises have, and how quickly you become obsessed with them!

Yes, he can certainly go out in the garden when it's warm and sunny -- he will love it. The general rule is that if you can wear a t-shirt then he can go out, but if he is nicely warmed up and it's sunny (even if it is a bit cool) then you can put him out and then just feel his shell every now and then and when his shell feels cool bring him in for a warm up and then put him out again. But do keep an eye on him, as they are great escape artists and if warm they can move very quickly! I've attached two photos to show you how well they can climb (and they are demon diggers as well).

Were the weed seeds that you bought tortoise-friendly ones? Not all weeds are good for them. In the meantime, here is a link to the page on our website that tells you how to use the filter tool on our website to produce lists of edible plants (excluding the ones that aren't good to feed): https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/pla ... UsCYn3TWNI Scroll down to 'How to use the Traffic Light Filters', and if that isn't clear, let me know and i'll explain it in more detail.

I'm not sure where you live, but there is loads of good food still out there, either in gardens or in the wild. You can usually easily find not only dandelions, but plantain, sowthistle, herb robert, cat's ear and other weeds, and in the garden there is the low growing campanula that stays green for most of the year, and many other plants.

As far as commercial foods are concerned, there only one that we would recommend, it's called Pre Alpin Testudo. It's a German brand but you can buy it in several places in the UK, and it is made up completely of leaves and flowers from alpine meadows, and The Tortoise Trust says that poo from tortoises fed on this more closely resemble the food of tortoises in the wild (ha, ha, I'll bet you never thought you'd develop an interest in tortoise poo!). You can buy it from Shelled Warriors Shop here https://www.shelledwarriorsshop.co.uk/a ... -261-c.asp and any of the varieties will do (except you won't need the 'baby' one). It comes either loose or in large pellets called 'cobs' and you soak it in warm water until it rehydrates and expands (a little goes a long way). I would buy the smallest size available to try it, and some tortoises don't like it at first so you have to mix it with the stuff they do like, and then gradually reduce the other food until they are eating this.

They also sell seed mixes https://www.shelledwarriorsshop.co.uk/a ... -261-c.asp and if you need to purchase more seeds then I would get either the one with 10 species of plant or (scroll down) the one with 65 species -- and again just buy a small quantity to start with. You can sow them in individual small trays (think the size that you would buy a chicken breast in) or pots and in succession every two or three weeks, so that when one little tray is ready you can put it in with him, and when he has eaten that then another will be on its way.

There are a few things you can feed as a temporary measure or in small amounts. There is a supermarket salad mix called Florette Crispy that is salad leaves, but a slightly better type of salad for tortoises than the usual lettuce. And you can also feed some kale (we generally don't advise feeding members of the cabbage family, but Kale is better than most of them).

The main thing with Horsfields is not to overfeed them. In the wild they come from areas that have long hot summers and very long cold winters, and they hibernate in the winter and aestivate (a bit like hibernation but in the heat) in the summer, and it is estimated that they are only awake for about three months of the year and only eat for a fraction of that time -- so they are sort of programmed to 'eat for England' in the short time that is open to them. Of course in captivity we present them with lovely meals every day and they can easily overeat and develop deformed shells.

The way to prevent that is to monitor how much you are feeding him, and aim for an average weight gain of around 1g - 3g per month (that's just an average, and some months he will gain more and some less, but it's something to aim for. A little guide is all he can eat in 20 minutes, once a day, or enough leaves and flowers to make a little jacket or blanket to cover his shell, once a day (but the best way is to monitor weight gain).

Would you like a complimentary copy of our Tortoise Observation Records Booklet? It's just an easy way to keep all you data in one place (vet details, illnesses, changes of equipment, growth records, etc.), and you can weigh and measure him regularly and see a pattern? If you'd like a copy just send your address to me at nina@thetortoisetable.org.uk and I'll pop a copy in the post to you.

Ooops, sorry -- I've posted a long message again -- but hope it's useful!

What's his name by they way?

Nina
[attachment=0]Tortoise climbing wall.jpg[/attachment][attachment=1]Tortoise climbing fence.jpg[/attachment]
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Sarahe999
Posts: 6
Joined: 21 Sep 2021, 17:18

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Sarahe999 » 22 Sep 2021, 17:49

Thank you Nina you’ve been so helpful and given us lots of ways to help our tortoise, he’s called Shelby. And I’ve really enjoyed hearing about tortoises - even their poop lol

I’m so glad you warned us about them burying themselves as just I’ve found him with his front half under the substrate. I’d have panicked if you’d not told me. It’ll be great to give him more depth in his new table. We’re thinking of putting in a glass side so we can see him more - would that be a problem? Would he like to see out?

He had a fun run around the garden in the sunshine this afternoon. So did I trying to keep up with him lol. I think an outside enclosure might need to go on the list.

Yes, the seeds I have are tortoise friendly ones but I’ve ordered the food and seeds you recommended. What a great tip to use small pots and put them in with him. Thank you for the help with the database and I think you’re right we can still find things like thistle, nettle,dandelions and hopefully chickweed.
I’ll send the hubby out for crispy florette later and I’ll go and brush up my botany skills to search the garden for suitable plants.

He’s not been eating lots at the moment (he is eating). I guess most things are fairly new to him and we’ll see what things he enjoys.
I’ve been worried about all the changes he’s had to adapt to but he seems happier than when we first got him. I know he should really hibernate but I think we’ve missed the window to get him ready. Would it be ok to just aim to do it next year?

I’d love to keep a little record book for him, if you wouldn’t mind sending one. I’ll drop you an email with my address.

I really have enjoyed reading your messages and we both loved the photos. I think we might be becoming totally smitten with tortoises.
Thank you yet again
Sarah

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Nina
Posts: 1577
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Nina » 22 Sep 2021, 18:41

Thanks, Sarah, and I think that Shelby has really lucked out by being welcomed into your home -- you're doing a great job.

Re glass -- you can put a glass side in, but I would have the glass start above where his head is when he is walking around (so a solid border around the bottom). The reason for this is that tortoises don't really understand the concept of glass and if they can see out then they want to get out, and it is frustrating for them. But the more light that can get into the table the better, so a partially glass side is a good idea.

I'm so glad that he had a nice afternoon in the garden. The UVB from the sun is a higher quality than what we can provide artificially (although at this time of year it's lower in the sky and so not quite as effective), but the fresh air and sunshine are great for him. So yes, definitely think about an outdoor enclosure for next year. When you're ready to build it we can give you lots of ideas, but you can also google outdoor tortoise enclosures and see what others have done (some are good and some are terrible). The main thing with Horsfields is that you will have to bury the walls into the ground because Horsfields will dig down, under and out in no time.

You haven't missed the opportunity to prepare him for hibernation this year, but we wouldnt recommend hibernation until you've had him for a year or so. The reason is that they have to be in peak health to hibernate, and it takes a while to get to know his little ways and to tell if he is a bit off colour in any way. When you're ready to hibernate him next year, let me know and I'll send you links to all the information for winding down (that is preparation and is one of the most important parts of the process), box hibernation (which many people still do), and fridge hibernation (which sounds horrendous but is actually the preferred method now because you are more in control of the temperatures and environment), as well as waking up from hibernation. A tortoise his age would probably hibernate for around 12 weeks, maybe a bit more. I would send you the info now, but I think I've already inundated you with stuff!

Him not eating so much. This is the one problem with many species (but especially Horsfield)s, at this time of year, as they have a particularly strong hibernation instinct. Many of them are now not eating and not waking up in the morning, but it is a bit too early for hibernation, and there are techniques (that don't always work, but usually do) for keeping him awake and eating. If he does get lethargic and stops eating, let us know and we'll try and give you advice on getting him going again.

And i can see that you are smitten with him, and soon you'll join the ranks of 'crazy tortoise ladies' seen wandering along verges at various times of the day, with a carrier bag full of weeds that you have foraged for Shelby! Would love to see a photo of him.

Nina

Sarahe999
Posts: 6
Joined: 21 Sep 2021, 17:18

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Sarahe999 » 22 Sep 2021, 19:25

Ahh thank you Nina and you’ve totally got me pegged lol
I’ve been outside looking at weeds in the front garden and I’ve got my eye on my father-in-laws flower garden and pond. Or as I’ve started to call it - Shelby’s running buffet ;)

I actually came back on to see if I could upload a photo. I’m afraid it’s not a great one of him having a run in the garden. He was so happy to be out and he’s loved having his space upgraded. He’s moving around so much more than at first. He seems to be getting used to me, as I’m making changes and cleaning his space. I do worry that it could be too much for him, but he seems pretty content. I can’t wait to get him in a space that meets all his needs.

Thank you for the hibernation help and yes closer to the time I’m sure I’ll ask another million questions.
You’ve been so lovely and I know you’ve made a big difference to Shelby already.
Sarah
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Nina
Posts: 1577
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Help needed please.

Post by Nina » 22 Sep 2021, 21:03

Doesn't he look happy wandering around in that big area, and I think i can see some nice juicy weeds growing there too. Paradise!

Nina

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