Our Tortoise Breeding Facility

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This blog will show photos and information of our new tortoise breeding facility. We bought this property in 2010 and after working through several years of permitting, flood control studies, easement & access problems, soil tests and many other obstacles, we began construction in late 2013. Progress will be slowly made well into 2014-2015, but these are some photos and descriptions of our work along the way. Enjoy!

Newest posts are at the top, oldest on bottom. 

Post on 4-5-14

More progress on the video and security feeds lately. We have found some battery powered cameras that will start recording with motion, some will take photos and send the photos to a cell phone. We are using some game cameras also just to have recordings (because game cameras are so low-cost, we can use a lot of them all over the place). If something went missing (theft, etc) we would have many photos and videos of the person, and of the vehicle. We have mostly seen rabbits so far, nothing too exciting yet. We also have some cameras mounted in the tortoise pens that will kick on with a lot of activity (a single tortoise or two walking by doesn't really trigger it). Today after I fed them, they started moving around in mass the camera started recording (below). A previous recording had me putting out the food (today was globe mallow, desert marigold and mulberry leaves). 

More grief last week with the county for flood control, I need to add a bunch of boulders near my road for erosion control which will require me to move my fence a bit, dig out a big hole and fill it back up with "certified dirt" rather than (heaven forbid) the dirt that was already there and has been for 10,000 years. One step forward, two steps back! 

Below is a photo from the tortoise camera, and the same enclosure taken with a real camera. 

Mack helping me with the hermanns tortoises. 

Post on 3-14-14

We have made a lot of progress since the last post on the new place. The perimeter fence is fully finished and secure, and we are in the process of building the second, interior fence now (holes are drilled, posts will be in the ground within a few weeks). Our electronic security is an ongoing process. We have moved a small group of Russian tortoises to the new enclosures which are doing very well. We brought in several trucks of different sands and soils we are testing a bit and will adjust what we use with future enclosures. The dirt we like is not great for natural incubation, so we used different soils in different areas and mixed some different things in just to see what works, and we can adjust later on. A huge priority for us here is natural incubation, knowing how and where the tortoises will lay eggs, and knowing very accurately when to expect babies so we can collect them as soon as they emerge. It's not realistic to find many nests in enclosures that are large and set up "naturalistic" unless you are constantly watching them, so we are doing what we can to help babies hatch naturally. 

We are using several types of plants in the enclosures, most of the shade is provided by mesquite trees; we have one in each enclosure, oriented in strategic places to provide the optimal shade in the summer sun. In our location, mesquite trees drop all their leaves in the winter so more sunshine will come through to the ground. We also have mulberry trees planted nearby which are a great food source, but their shade isn't really in this area (they are mostly over the sulcata pens and a quarantine area we are working on). Some of the plants in the pens we are using include cassia (two types), sage (several types), deer grass, red and green fountain grass, globe mallow (grows naturally here and tortoises love it, pictured below on the left), morning glory, pampas grass, chaparral sage and a few others others. These are plants we know to work well in the dry climate and with tortoises. We only get around 4" of rainfall per year in Las Vegas, so supplemental watering is ongoing, especially in the first summer. Almost all of the "test plants" we planted in the fall survived through the winter, so we know of a few to eliminate (mostly the bell-type plants; yellow bells, tecoma bells, etc). This is in the cooler end of Las Vegas, winter lows here are around 15-20 degrees on a normal winter, but within Las Vegas, the cold is a little less of a problem (we have the bell plants in our backyard tortoise pens now). 

Post on 1-22-14

New hideboxes are in the works. We have made so many different types here at our current place, and so many of them were kinda thrown together with scrap wood and just "worked," but were admittedly kinda shaggy. Since we had 8 new enclosures that were all the same, I wanted to make a batch of 8 that would at least look decent. We ended up with boxes 2x3' in size and 12" tall. This size I figured was good for about a dozen adults in the species we were planning them for (Russians and hermanns). Since the whole area was getting filled anyways with 4" to 6" of better soils, we built a 6" box to put underneath the hides so the tortoises could dig within the hides but still be contained and not just dig out the side of the hidebox. It would also allow us to control the soil that went directly under the hides. In our current enclosures, about 90% of these species will hibernate dug into the soil in their hideboxes, so we tried to give them a good opportunity for that here. The hides and frames beneath them were secured in place with steel stakes so that wind or tortoises wouldn't move them. 

Post on 11-23-13

In late 2013 the legal obstacles were cleared up. The first photo shows some early tortoise pens we got going on. The wood you see in the photos has since been buried and is there to prevent them from digging out (6" depth underground). These enclosures are sized 15x24' and will be used for hermanns and russian tortoises. We started getting trees in the ground, perimeter fencing permitted and completed and got going on the actual enclosures. We planted some "test plants" this fall in the varieties we hope to use to see which ones handle the slightly colder winters than we are used to. It's a higher elevation than the tortoises are at now. I had lots of help from my boys in building one of the two perimeter fences that we built completely by ourselves. A second fence will go around the tortoise area itself (this fence in the photos is on the property line all the way around). We are working on a full solar powered camera and alert system that we can view from any cell phone or computer and will text us with motion detection as well as any time something passes between two points (vehicle turns on to our road, etc).

Post on 11-22-13

Part of our work to get through the county "violations" involved a full-scale flood study, civil engineering work on the whole property, soils reports for erosion potential (flood water study), dust control permits, grading permits and we had to remove a layer of block from the walls we had built so that they didn't require permitting. Since we couldn't build anything during this time, we planted about 150 cactus plants in 3-5 gallon pots. We didn't know where we wanted them in the ground yet, so we wanted to get them growing/rooting in the meantime. Within a few months, rabbits had eaten 100% of them. We would take tortoises out there to run around and stretch their legs, leaving them there a few days at a time. The property wasn't secure enough at that point to leave them there full time. These are 4" Russian tortoises in a 30x60' (still bare) enclosure.

Post on 11-20-13

Our early work in clearing the land, leveling things out (the property had a gradual slope to it, but we wanted it level overall with small slopes in each enclosure to our design, not everything sloping in one direction). There are steps between rows of enclosures so the natural grade is never far off, just has a level subgrade within each enclosure. This work took place in late 2010. Shortly after, we were stopped by the county for not having proper permitting in place, so we spent most of 2011 and 2012 straightening all that out. The block walls are some future sulcata tortoise enclosures.