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One step at a time
Posted: 04/07/2014 by pookie4

I'm considering getting a Horsfield tortoise as a family pet, but am in no hurry as want to be well prepared. I have four decently behaved children (7, 5, 3, 1) and a large garden and house. Could someone scan this post and answer question briefly / let me know if I've got anything really wrong

I gather that if they have a well-designed home they can live outside most of the time (?). They burrow a lot and they can escape, so I need to put something underneath to stop them doing a runner.

1. Should this be wire mesh? Concrete? And how far below the surface should this be.

And it needs to be well  drained... Have to do a bit more research on the sand / clay....

Can I presume it should be in a sunny spot?

2. They need solid walls (not mesh to climb or see through Perspex). Wood / brick ok - or would something else be more suitable?

3. They need a 'house' (small dog kennel? new) and an outdoor area roofed with Perspex or glass. Do they need extra outdoor shade? If so, is something like a bucket on its side (as example) ok?

I think I should grow some plants in the enclosure for them to eat (more research needed), but do they need anything in particular to 'amuse' them?

I gather they need constant access to drinking water - would they like water to go into? (Not sure, as wouldn't be much in their natural environment??)

Am confused about the whole heat /heat lamp issue - are they ok outside without a heat source (other than the sun) generally?

Again, just at design stage of outdoor enclosure at the minute. ..

Re: One step at a time
Posted: 04/07/2014 by catherine louise

Hi you might have a bit of a wait for a reply,i am still waiting lol but you do get very good advice,i am still at a loss what i am doing wrong as i have a very happy healthy tortoise and wanted to rehome one but alas it is not to be,good luck with all you are doing and they are a pleasure to keep,mine is a horsfield called  bob,they are excellent diggers and escape artists lol but tom and darren can give you some excellent advice regarding everything else.Be nice to know how you get on and hopefully i will get to rehome one.regards cath

Re: One step at a time
Posted: 24/07/2014 by Don

First off, the  old adage that tortoises make good pets for children is not true.

Tortoises can carry salmonella and may be seen as a toy to be pushed around like a toy car. For both your childrens' sake and the tortoise's sake, keep them separated until your children can be educated to be hygienic where aimals are concerned and understand that tortoises are not toys.

In your circumstances, the best place for a tortoise would be an outdoor enclosure. It should be over as wide an area as possible. Tortoises require a great deal of room to roam. The ground should be undulating and a mix of soil, large stones and rocks with flat surfaces. You must also provide a shallow water dish. A large plant pot saucer is good for this purpose. Plants to provide shade are a good idea, especially if they can also provide food. A Hibiscus or evergreen Wallflower would be fine, but do keep them under control, so as not to swamp the enclosure. Other edible plants can also be put in, but they may need to be replaced with amazing regularity. Dandelion, hawksbeard, sow thistle, clover, chickweed, common mallow, bindweed and wild chicory are just a few of the plants suitable for your torts diet.

Horsfields are good diggers and may burrow up to a metre deep. Do not use wire mesh to inhibit burrowing. It will rust and your tort may be injured by it. Concrete will, as you guessed, prevent drainage. The best solution is to use patio or paving slabs as a footing for the enclosure walls or use upturned plastic bottle crates or purpose made soakaway crates (used for drainage under patios) or close plastic mesh.

The sides of your enclosure need to be solid. If your tortoise can see out it will encourage it to dig out. Timber can be used for the sides. If not already pressure treated, treat with a good quality timber treatment well in advance of utilising. Make the walls at least 15cms high. You may need to put a top on the enclosure, especially while the tort is young and small and if you have foxes, cats, badgers or birds of prey around. It may also be the best way to keep your dog from the tort. Make a strong wooden frame and use strong plastic netting (such as clematis climbing mesh). You may need to cut holes to allow larger plants to grow through. Hinging the top to one side might be a good plan, but make sure the top can be secured.

Making a hide for your tort is essential. It will give it somewhere to cool off on hot sunny days. Without shade a tort can overheat. Also, one reason a tort burrows is to provide shade. By supplying a purpose made hide, your tort will have one less reason to burrow.

Now, back to that water dish. Tortoises cannot suck up water, they need to immerse their head in order to drink. The water dish should be big enough for the tortoise to get right in to. I use a plant pot saucer which is 45cms in diameter. The water level should be roughly in line with the joint line between the tortoises carapace (upper domed part of the shell) and plastron (underside of the shell). Use water which has been pre-boiled and allowed to cool. This boils off the chlorides in tap water, which can strip the mucus from the mouth.

While out in the garden, your tortoise will not need additional heat or light. Nothing humans can supply, on this requirement, can match good ol' mother nature.

Feeding. Weeds, wild plants (whatever you want to call them) are by far the best. You will find dietary advice on this web site and a good list (with pictures) at

Finally, you will need to supply an indoor tortoise table for the colder months when your tortoise is still active and hibernate your little shelled chum through the winter. Again, you can find good information on this web site.

Before I sign off, one really important point; DO NOT BUY A TORTOISE FROM A PET SHOP OR GARDEN CENTRE and NEVER EVEN THINK ABOUT BUYING FROM AN ON-LINE TRADER. Do certainly consider giving a new home to a needy tortoise. See:

Hope this is of help to you. Don't be afraid to ask more.


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