Building a sulcata tortoise house takes less than an hour. No kidding. You may have heard of the tedious ways to pull off a tortoise pen. But you can avoid those hassles with smart technique. So, how to build a sulcata tortoise house from scratch?
To build a sulcata tortoise house, first, collect square blocks with notches for timbers. Then place the woods in the crevices to build the primary structure. Some portion of the wall should be under the ground. Next, place a dog house, water bowl, and substrate in the pen to make it liveworthy. Finally, decorate the home with grass, hay, plants, and rocks.
Get the details below.
How To Build A Sulcata Tortoise House? [Step by Step]
While building a sulcata tortoise house, you need to consider several different aspects. For example, the size of the pen, the location, essential supplies, and other decorations.
Again, Sulcata tortoises outgrow different tortoise species in no time. So, raising them in an outdoor pen is always recommended.
In the following subsections, you will find an organized and easy way of finishing the tortoise enclosure.
1. Draft The Size Of The Sulcata Tortoise House
A newborn Sulcata tortoise is not bigger than 1.5 – 2 inches. But within 5 years, the hatchling will turn 10 – 20 inches. Moreover, an adult Sulcata tortoise has a carapace length of up to 32 inches. (You can check the growth rate of a healthy Sulcata tortoise from this article.)
Therefore, though you can raise a baby Sulcata tortoise in an indoor house, it is impossible for adults. Hence, building a spacious outdoor pen for young and adult tortoises is wise.
If you plan to prepare an indoor habitat for the hatchling, a 20 – 40 gallon tank or 8 by 8 feet box is enough. However, as the baby grows its carapace length, you may have to upgrade the size.
Now moving to the outdoor enclosure, you need at least 80 – 100 square foot space to build a Sulcata tortoise pen. Again, smaller houses than this space will only suit baby tortoises.
Most experts advise a tortoise pen of 10 by 10 feet. You can build a rectangular enclosure. But do not make one end so narrow that the tortoise can not reach that side.
Furthermore, the walls of the habitat should be at least 24 inches above the ground. Also, you need to extend the wall at least 12 – 24 inches under the ground for a solid base.
2. Select The Location
Now that you know the size of the Sulcata tortoise habitat, starts looking for a suitable location. Of course, your backyard is an ideal option as you can access and observe the pets 24/7.
However, you can not just build the pen anywhere in your garden. There are some criteria you need to consider,
- Building the habitat in low land will affect it during the rainy season. For example, the pen can get flooded. So, find an uphill or high land to build the enclosure. Moreover, if you live in a flood-affected zone, you should have an emergency indoor backup home for the pet.
- The house should be slightly inclined to one side so that it does not create puddles when it rains.
- Select a flat land. This way, you can lay out the house structure smoothly.
- The enclosure should be in a location that receives both sunlight and shadow. It will create a natural temperature gradient, allowing the pet to move anywhere it feels comfortable.
- However, in the winter season, you have to make some changes to these arrangements. During cold days, the pets require more sunlight and zero shade.
3. Build The Structure
You can start DIYing the sulcata tortoise house by collecting the supplies. Building the pen is super easy, as all you need is 4 pieces of rectangular wood.
The ideal wood size for the young tortoise enclosure is 6 by 3 feet. But you can go for 10 by 2 feet or 10 by 3 feet, depending on your pet’s size.
While buying timbers for the Sulcata tortoise’s home, avoid pressure-treated woods. Those are chemically coated and compressed. Hence, keeping the tortoises in contact with these woods is not healthy.
Instead, buy raw wood as those come fresh and hazard-free. However, these timbers will lose their charm by the following year, and you have to replace them with new raw wood.
Now, I have previously mentioned placing the wood at least 12 – 24 inches under the ground for a solid grip. Well, it is necessary as the Sulcata tortoises have the habit of escaping the pen.
But we have found a suitable alternative to this problem.
For the starter, buy square blocks from your nearest home depo. These blocks have both spikes and notches for holding the timbers.
I usually buy 8 square blocks and make stacks of two. Then I set one block under the ground, and another one stays over the surface.
Later on, I simply fit the timbers in the notches. So, 1 foot of the wood is under the ground and 2 feet over the surface, serving as walls.
You will notice gaps between the timbers and blocks. We can fill the gaps using dirt or other substrates.
If you have followed this far, you are done with the basic structure. Next, you need to prepare the ground. I have seen owners dig out the weeds and let the soil dry out first. Then they throw away grass seeds and add plants to the ground.
However, it is not a mandatory step. So, you can move to the next step by modifying the existing grass and plants.
4. Lay Up The Bottom
Sulcata tortoises are excellent burrowers. These creatures will dig into the ground and make a stay in the hole for days. Though this behavior seems odd to us, it is very natural to these desert tortoises.
Hence, while building the pen for Sulcata tortoises, you need to consider a medium for burrowing. Here, a bedded bottom makes these creatures feel at home in the enclosure.
Layering the habitat ground with a substrate can solve this issue. Generally, a mixture of dirt and soil is an ideal substrate for the outdoor home. Besides, you have other commercial options too. In my previous write-up, I listed the top 5 substrates for Sulcata tortoises.
Sulcata tortoises prefer moist soil for burrowing and nesting. So, covering the ground with appropriate bedding is necessary.
However, you do not have to use a substrate to layer up the whole pen. Instead, only cover the burrowing areas. You can keep the other portions as they are with natural soil. Throwing hays on the bare ground also works.
Now, if you have an indoor habitat, go with cypress mulch, coconut coir, or peat moss.
5. Place The Essentials
Of course, a bare structure will do no good to the Sulcata tortoises. Thus, you have to place other necessary items inside the pen to make it live-worthy. Here are the mandatory supplies for a Sulcata tortoise enclosure,
I know Sulcata tortoises are not well known for swimming. But hey! They still need water for drinking and soaking.
According to a study, a Sulcata tortoise can survive only a week without water. However, the timespan reduces with the decreasing air humidity and increasing temperature.
Apparently, a Sulcata tortoise drinks water when soaking. Not only drinking, the creature even releases its waste when bathing.
Thus, the pet will not urinate or poop without access to fresh water. It can lead to health complications and bladder stones in the tortoise. In addition, the creature suffers from other physical conditions due to the lack of water.
Therefore, you must build a water source inside the Sulcata tortoise’s enclosure. But of course, you can not dig a deep pool as tortoises can not swim. So, instead, build a shallow pool or provide the pets with a customized plastic tub.
Do you know how to soak suclata tortoises effectively? Well, yes, you will need a warm water source for that. While the pets are inside the tub, you need to sprinkle water on their shells to soak them properly.
Go through this article to learn how to soak your pet sulcata tortoise.
Of course, you need no basking light or UV light in the outdoor pen. The sun is the ultimate provider of both heat and UV rays.
But yes, if you raise the Sulcata tortoise in an indoor habitat, you have to install both a UV bulb and a heating lamp. For Sulcata tortoises, the ideal basking temperature for this species is 100 – 110 F.
Now, you may have to install heating pads in the outdoor pens in the winter season. Otherwise, your tortoises will hibernate. Usually, the bordering temperature for hibernating is 45 – 55F.
Find more information on a Sulcata tortoise’s winter care from this article.
Finally, you can set up a thermometer in both indoor and outdoor houses to track the temperature change.
You can not let your sulcata tortoise sleep under the bare sky. So, you have to build a shade for the tortoise. While many people add a hinged timber on one corner of the pen, turning it into a hiding spot, I prefer dog houses.
In my opinion, these houses are compact, portable, and perfect as Sulcata shades. On top of that, you can install heating pads and exhaust fans in these dog houses without any hassle.
Sulcata tortoises are masters of escaping. So, you have to ensure a sturdy wall and base that is unbreakable.
Also, do not build transparent walls in the tortoise habitat. If the pets know what is outside the wall, they will try to break through the obstacles.
Again, though Sulcata tortoises are large creatures, you can not eliminate the risk of predators. An animal big enough can easily injure these pets or steal the nesting eggs.
So, protect the yard with chicken wire or long fences first. But you can cover the pen with chicken wire if fencing is ineffective.
6. Decorate The Pen
Adding plants and grass to the enclosure brings a more natural vibe to the pen. So, the pet enjoys the habitat without missing its home.
To decorate the house, you can grow different types of grass inside the enclosure. As you know, Sulcata tortoises love grazing on fields. So, a little greenery inside the house will keep them full and satisfied.
Now that you grow grass inside the pen, you do not have to buy it from the local store. Even in an indoor habitat, you can grow grass in small pots. However, if your plan fails, you can always purchase safe grass from the local store or online websites.
Moreover, you can add strong rooted plants in the enclosure. Those will not only be a food source for the pets but also shadow the ground. Remember, tortoises will uproot any weak plants. So, it is better to choose the plants wisely.
Finally, you can add rocks and other items to replicate the natural environment in the pen.
Sulcata Tortoise House Alternative
Honestly, I find building a Sulcata tortoise pen fun. Though the task gets challenging when you use all timber or concrete structures, the problem resolves instantly with the square blocks.
However, many of my friends do not find this DIY job fascinating. So, they go with the ready-made commercial houses to raise the pets.
Yes, I am not a big fan of those commercial Sulcata tortoise houses. But yet, I decided to buy three different ready-made tortoise habitats for experience a few months ago. I have just used one model this far, and to be honest, the result surprised me.
Allow me to walk you through my personal experience.
The model I am using is called Aivituvin AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House. I ordered it on the official website, and the delivery was really fast. So, it is perfect if I talk about the website interface and buying experience, a big 10/10 on that.
Now let’s dive into the product.
Aivituvin AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House
Aivituvin has been in the reptile and pet housing business for years. Besides, the company promotes different types of ready-made wooden pens for different pet categories. For example, the Aivituvin AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House focuses on large tortoises like Sulcata.
Compared to other available brands, this model looks neat. Besides, the two separate rooms offer enough space for the tortoises to hide and move.
|Housing Material||100% Fir Wood|
|Shipping Weight||24.20 lbs|
|Package Includes||1 wooden hutch and 1 instruction mannual|
- Easy Maintenance: The brand has used waterproof and plastic fixed bottoms in this model. As plastics do not absorb moisture, cleaning becomes easier.
- Quality Materials: Plywood is a low-quality option to go with. It is because this type of wood starts rotting due to moisture, substrate composition, and tortoise waste. Luckily, Aivituvine used 100% solid wood to avoid such issues.
- Observation 24/7: With a wooden lid, you need to unhinge the cover whenever you want to check up on your tortoise. But the unique acrylic viewing design on both sides of the AIR21 lid allows you to watch the pet anytime. Again, the tortoise can also look up and get a glimpse of you.
- Room Facilities: The AIR21 comes with a double-bedroom facility. While the acrylic viewing lid area is used as a basking room, the other cabin is for sleeping and resting. Here, the acrylic lid allows the heat and UV rays to get inside the space efficiently.
- Cabin Dimensions: The activity area has a dimension of 23.6’’ W x 22.5’’D x 11.2’’H. While the sleeping room and door dimensions are 13’’ W x 22.5’’D x 11.2’’H and 8.3’’ W x 6.7’’H, respectively.
- Safe & Secure: You will find a mesh-wired cover just under the lids. It keeps the pets safe from any predators and, at the same time, minimizes the chance of escaping.
- Easy Assembly: The AIR21 comes in a flat package and a manual. But do not worry! All you need is a screwdriver to assemble the whole product. Also, you can expand the space by joining another set of AIR21 with the existing one. The company sends the essentials to join the two habitats on request.
- Essay to assemble & expand.
- Perfect for young and adult sulcata tortoises.
- Easy cleaning.
- Strong and secure structure.
- Spacious rooms.
- Unique lid design.
- Fast delivery.
- Return & refund policy available.
- Cedar wood is harmful to tortoises.
- The wood is a bit flimsy.
- Wooden parts are not predrilled and split away.
- Amature painting.
- Unpleasant manufacturing smell.
- A bit pricey.
Honestly, the Aivituvin AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House is an excellent alternative to a DIY tortoise house. Though I found some drawbacks, the product is not bad. Furthermore, considering the price, the facilities are excellent. So, if you are too lazy to build a habitat for your tortoise, this model can offer your Sulcata tortoise the quality and comfort of a home.
You can build a sulcata tortoise house from scratch with square blocks, timbers, and other essentials. So if you worry about the work, do not worry! You can complete the task without making your hands dirty. Then again, you can buy a commercial tortoise house if DIYing is not your thing.
This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. Muntaseer is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, Tortoise Town, MyFahlo, Just Answer and few other sites. These affiliate advertising programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to the specific sites. This site does not constitute pet medical advice, please consult a licensed veterinarian in your area for pet medical advice.
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