Horsfield tortoises (note correct spelling, not Horsefields) have a multitude of common names, one being the Russian tortoise. They do occur in Russia, but more correctly they are further widespread – Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, extending into western China and into South Eastern Russia. The occur in mainly dry terrain, but often in areas that will still allow lush vegetation to thrive. Being a widespread tortoise they are a hardy tortoise that can experience high and low extremes of temperature within the range. However it must be remembered that they will dig burrows to escape those extremes, both aestivating and brumating, and in some parts of their range they do both. A very hardy tortoise species indeed.
In reality these natural extremes have evolved this species to be a little trickier to keep in captivity than most keepers immediately think. For example, if a Horsfield experiences temperatures too high it will trigger them to aestivate – they will go off their food and try to burrow. Reports of non- feeding Horsfields is common, generally due to being kept a little too warm – I provide a basking temperature of around 28C, and find this is about the safe limit of tolerance. They also burrow to brumate once temperatures drop low, this is generally triggered around 8C or below – with a constant 3-5C being sufficient to keep this species from being active. This creates another two issues, one being that to brumate them successfully cool temperatures are a necessity or activity levels will be too high to maintain body weight. Secondly being a burrowing species means they are difficult to keep enclosed in a garden enclosure as they will dig themselves to freedom.
Most people start with a youngster – not too young though, at least one year old is less tricky, preferably two. The problem with all tortoise species is the room they will require as an adult. Even though Horsfields are a small species it doesn’t mean they won’t need a large area to live in. This means an average vivarium for an adult is just not big enough – and something more akin to a room size is the way to go. Critical to stress this when people start with a baby – its vital you can commit yourself for the full life of the tortoise – maybe 80 years commitment. Probably the best way of keeping an adult is to provide a heated shed or outdoor covered enclosure. Both these options will require the safe fitting, by a qualified electrician, of mains electric in the garden. To heat my adult tortoises I use mixtures of ceramic heaters and mercury vapour lamps – the lamps also provide UVB output. The heaters are all thermostatically controlled, this is very important – I use Microclimate Evo thermostats. All of my heated sheds have easy access (that I can close off) to outdoor pens, the tortoises can choose where they prefer to be – indoors or outdoors depending on the weather conditions. The outdoor pen has been made escape proof, they cannot burrow out. As a baby a three to four feet long vivarium is ideal, but I personally swap the mercury vapour UVB lights for T5 UVB tubes.
At any size they will require basking areas, cooler areas and some deep substrate they can burrow into to facilitate natural activities to control temperature. A selection of hides throughout the vivarium in warm and cool areas gives another way of thermoregulating their temperature. A water and a food bowl should be placed in the cool end of the enclosure.
Food should consist of mainly wild collected meadow plants, washed, including dandelions, plantain, vetch etc. Supermarket bought greens are far from ideal, but some of the better ones include water cress and kale. The more traditional tortoise diet of lettuce and tomatoes is not a good diet and should not be given. Always use a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement powder (I stick with VetArk Nutrobal) sprinkled on their food – less frequently for adults.
This is a very brief breakdown giving the essenetials of Horsfield care. Here at Coast to Coast Exotics we take great care with out animals and the way we sell them to out customers. We will provide all the details you will need, and will of course help you make a decision if a tortoise (or specifically a Horsfields) is for you. Pop in for a chat – we generally always have Horsfields in stock for you to look at.