Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

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Tracyann1982
Posts: 4
Joined: 22 Feb 2021, 14:12

Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Tracyann1982 » 22 Feb 2021, 18:37

Hi we live in Scotland & I have a 3/4 year old horse field tortoise , he has a indoor enclosure 6ft by 2.5ft, he also gets out daily to roam around , when the weather is good he has a outdoor enclosure 7.5ft by 3.5ft ( he has a lot more plants, water dish, hides ect in outdoor enclosure
This photo was when it was just built

However we feel this is not big enough and are considering converting a green house for him to live out in all year round with heating and up light so he has a bigger space with more variety in his enclosure
Has anyone ever done this or can advise me on this
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Tracyann1982
Posts: 4
Joined: 22 Feb 2021, 14:12

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Tracyann1982 » 22 Feb 2021, 18:45

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Nina
Posts: 1519
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Nina » 23 Feb 2021, 08:55

Hi Tracyann, and welcome to The Tortoise Table! I'm so sorry that we're a bit late in responding to your post, but we were having a bit of work done on the Forum and website over the weekend and we've only just got notification of posts from Sunday and Monday.

It's a lovely little Horsfield you've got, and it is great that you want to give him more space! Tortoises do need much more space than people think, and in fact they get bored and a bit lethargic if they are confined to a small area.

Converting a greenhouse is a great idea, and many people do use greenhouses for their tortoises, usually with an entrance/exit where he can come and go at will. They manage this by standing the edges of the greenhouse on bricks or breezeblocks and leaving one block out and putting one of those plaxtic flaps there, and the tortoise can go in and out as he pleases. I can only see a few problems or considerations:

1. In the summer (lol, even in Scotland), it can get super hot in greenhouses and tortoises confined to them have been known to die from dehydration fairly quickly. My little greenhouse last summer got to over 45C on several occasions when it was in the high 20's outside. My greenhouse has automaticw windows that open when the temperature gets warm, and it is a good idea to have these (you can buy them separately and install them and they aren't electric or anything -- just solar powered or contain a wax in a tube that expands when it gets warm and makes the window open. Just google it and you'll see lots ( https://tinyurl.com/1b4y6ghb ). Even with these though my greenhouse got too hot for a tortoise, so if you had a means whereby he could go out of the greenhouse into a secure little section of the garden that would be perfect.

2. Remember that UVB doesn't pass through glass, so he would either need access to the outdoors and/or a UVB light in the greenhouse.

3. Cold. Does he hibernate, and if so, where? If he is staying out there all year round, how will you ensure that it remains warm enough in the greenhouse for him? Heat escapes quickly through glass. You could insultate most of it with bubble wrap, but I think that in cold weather when he isn't hibernating it could be quite expensive to keep the temperature warm enough for him (you want one area of around 30C and other areas around 20C).
Many people do let their tortoses hibernate in the soil in greenhouses, but just remember that Horsfields are a burowing species and if he digs down into the soil there is a chance that he could dig down, under and out.

Having said all that, I do think you might be able to make it work, but just thought I'd point out considerations. Also, I wasn't sure what your second photo showed -- the photo of the room with wooden floor. Sorry if I'm misunderstanding, but hope some of that is of use.

Nina

Tracyann1982
Posts: 4
Joined: 22 Feb 2021, 14:12

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Tracyann1982 » 23 Feb 2021, 10:24

Hi Nina
Thanks for response
I plan to do a greenhouse with the bottom as breeze blocks ( great idea of leaving one out as a access for Rex)
Will also look into the open windows
For the summer months the plan is to also build him a outdoor run that he can access from his greenhouse as and when he pleases with plants, hides, water feature ect like a mini realistic habitat for him
We do let him roam the garden when we are there to supervise & he loves this, however would be uncomfortable giving him the full run of the garden unsupervised hence why building him a secure pen off his greenhouse.

In winter we plan to put a heat source & a uv light in the greenhouse as there will be times in winter he won’t be outside , he does like to burrow so we plan to put the greenhouse on a concrete base then we will put a few inches of topsoil mixed with coco choir down so he can burrow when he pleases but can’t burrow out & escape ( this will also be done in his outside enclosure)
We also plan on doing a few different areas with different bases, ie top soil, stones ( he loves rummaging in stones) turfed area maybe a barked area.
He is a very active & social tortoise , he loves exploring & this winter we feel like he hasn’t got out as much as he would need/want , we do let him out to wander in the house when we can supervise ( atleast 4/5 times a week) but he enjoys being outside more we feel)
So just want him to be as happy as he can be

We don’t hibernate him,
And the middle picture wasn’t meant to be sent 😂

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Nina
Posts: 1519
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Nina » 23 Feb 2021, 12:39

Hi Tracy,

It's a great idea to give Rex an outdoor run that he can access from the greenhouse, and I think it could work well. And I agree that it isn't a good idea to allow access to the whole garden for a Horsfield, because they will inevitably burrow down under a bush or something at some point and then you can't find them. Lol, there are numerous stories of tortoises going missing one summer and then the following Spring they appear in the middle of the garden, covered in mud, having just dug themselves up to the surface again. I think your plans for the outdoor area sound excellent.

Do you have any preditors like foxes or rats near you? If so then it might be a good idea to block up the access into the greenhouse at night and open it up again in the morning. It will probably be fine as you have planned, but I just thought it might be sensible to raise possible problems, no matter how unlikely. Also, I would make the soil or whatever substrate you use in the greenhouse as deep as possible, as Horsfields really love digging tunnels and burrows. Your idea to have different areas of substrate (stones, bark, soil) is excellent and will provide him with lots of variety, which is really important.

Is there a reason why you don't hibernate him? The only reason I ask is that Horsfields are a species with a strong hibenation instinct, and it might be a good idea to consider hibernating him so that he doesn't have to cope with sub-zero temperatures for part of the year. A 3 - 4 year old tortoise would normally hibernate for between 8 - 12 weeks. We can send you all the information you need about preparing a tortoise for hibernation (which is crucial) as well as the hibernation itself, in plenty of time for next year. Of course even if he did hibernate there will be quite a bit of time between autumn and spring when it is too cold for him to go out, so that greenhouse would come in very handy. If you choose not to hibernate him that is fine, but I just wondered why.

Have you thought about the possibility of combining the greenhouse with a small shed or good sized wendy house? This can work really well because it's easy to insulate a small shed and install heat and light in there, and then there would be access to the greenhouse for Rex when the temperatures inside the greenhouse are nice and warm from the sun. It would also be a lot cheaper to heat an insulated shed than a glass greenhouse. We have a section on outdoor enclosures on our website and it covers greenhouses, sheds, and combinations of both in case you're interested etc. Don't know if it will be any help:
https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/tor ... DTyfXmnyM8

If you did want to make his indoor table more interesting you could always add a second level, with a ramp leading up to it This is really easy to put in and they love walking up and down the ramp to see if there are any treats for them up there, and it gives them extra exercise. Have attached a photo of my Doris on the second level, looking down. All you need to do is ensure that walls on the second level are high enough that Rex can't climb out.

I think your project sounds excellent and well thought out. Please don't hesitate to ask more questions, and we'd love to see your project being built and when it's finished -- I'm sure it will inspire others!

Nina
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Tracyann1982
Posts: 4
Joined: 22 Feb 2021, 14:12

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Tracyann1982 » 23 Feb 2021, 13:06

We don’t relay have foxer or rats that we have seen however we live close to the beach & seagulls have been known to swop & snatch things from gardens that take there fancy, we also have a few cats around that I don’t trust so to keep Rex completely safe the only access in or out for him from the greenhouse into his outdoor pen will be covered by a mesh lid
We are going to have a mesh top on outside enclosure to stop any predators getting to him in his outdoor pen ( we have this just now on his summer outdoor run & it works great)
so they won’t be able to access the greenhouse either this way.

We don’t hibernate him for 2 reasons
1. Is I’m not 100% on how you do this
2. He is a really active & inquisitive tortoise all year round
He never seems to slow down in winter or any time of the year so we think he is happy enough,
he does like his sleep and he has his night box in his enclosure that he burrows deep into but he is pretty active most of the day & at night when I turn his uv light off it’s as if he knows it’s bedtime & off he goes to his night box
I swear he has a built in clock he knows our routine down to a T, I never knew how intelligent they were till we got Rex.

Will definitely make his soil a lot deeper in outdoor pen & will look more into the greenhouse /shed combo idea
Thanks for all the advice it’s very much welcomed & appreciated
Tracy 😊

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Nina
Posts: 1519
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Greenhouse as outdoor enclosure

Post by Nina » 23 Feb 2021, 20:14

Your plans for security of the enclosure sound really good and well thought out -- and I'm looking forward to seeing it!

It's absolutely normal to be frightened of hibernating (we all are), but to be honest it is best for the tortoise. There's an interesting thing about Horsfields. In the wild they tend to live in areas that are really cold in winter, and they hibernate a long time, and really hot summers, and they aestivate (which is like hibernation but in the heat). It's estimated that they are only awake for about three months of the year, and that they are actively feeding for only about 20 or 30 hours of that time. So they are sort of programmed to eat as much as possible in a short period of time. This gives rise to one of the challenges of keeping Horsfields -- to keep them growing slowly and not rapidly. If tortoises grow too quickly their shells grow 'bumpy' and that can lead to deformities and metabolic bone disease, so we need to monitor their intake and keep them growing slowly (an average of between 1g - 3g per month gain is what we aim for). The only reason I bring that up is that hibernating means a period of time when they aren't gaining weight and helps to average out the yearly growth.

If Rex is energetic throughout the winter then that is great, because many Horsfields get lethergic and go off their food, and it can be difficult to keep them awake. It is OK not to hibernate him, but it is better for him if he does hibernate. We have full guides on how to do it and would be happy to support you and answer any questions if you decide that next year you would like to hibernate him. I can send you the guides now if you like, but if you're not interested that's fine too.

You're right about how intelligent tortoises are. And they have incredible memories. There were some studies done and the scientists were surprised at how good their short and long-term memories were.

Sorry to have gone on for such a long time, but I'll leave you with an interesting little fact. The reason Horsfield has that spelling (and not Horse Field) is that they are named after Dr Thomas Horsfield, a 19th century explorer and naturalist, who discovered them. 8-)

Nina

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