WHAT HAPPENS IN THE WINTER?
This is the million dollar question! The short answer is Natural all the way. There are too many misapprehensions in tortoise keeping and a tendency to believe that one rule fits all.. This is complete nonsense to assume that a Hermanns , a Horsfield and a mediterranean Spurthigh will have the same genetic make up and wintering habits as one another.
All wild tortoises live through the winter in their native ranges so of course its a necessary part of their natural life.
The aim for all owners of captive tortoises is to give them the most natural life that is possible .. As soon as it is possible the tortoise should be living outside in appropriate housing all year round and this is where they should spend the winter also..
To Fridge or Not to Fridge??
This is a very contentious subject some people are advocates of this .. I, on the other hand, think it is lunacy and nothing more than a game of Russian Roulette with your tortoises life .. In fact , there is now research indicating that sepsis is much more likely in fridge hibernation .. every year tortoises die in fridges .. particularly Hermanns ... some due to malfunctioning of the fridge others through unexpected infection.
Hermanns are NOT a true hibernating species .. Wild studies show that they will become inactive for short periods surfacing periodically for water and at times will be seen basking when the temperature rises slightly as it does naturally. When the temperature drops again, the Hermanns Tortoise will take itself back to its brumation.. At no point do they go into a deep deep sleep and not stir for months upon end.. they are far more reactive to temperature fluctuation. This is all explained wonderfully in the Naturalistic Keeping and Breeding of Hermanns Tortoises..
My ethos on the wintering of Hermanns is to make it natural.. do NOT force a tortoise into starvation or confine it in an artificially inhospitable situation.. show empathy and understand what your tortoise would do in the wild.
The way in which I winter my Tortoises is safer and more gentle than the other methods .. its a bit more hands on than the other methods and requires constant monitoring. Its also a method that relies upon your intuition and empathy and reaction as the weather changes ..
I Start my 'wind down' period around the beginning of October, having checked them for worms around June and July. As the Autumn in the UK draws in then i start to lower the temperatures gently and shorten the day light times just as ours is .. I tweak this weekly 5 degrees C at a time.. During this time I offer food and water ..
The aim of this process is to encourage the tortoises metabolism to slow and eventually they will refuse food of their own accord as their systems slow down .
I aim to have mine go down to their resting the late part of November. £ months is a good length of time for them to be on reduced functionality . I want them to be waking up around the same time as their food source is starting to become available again..
I use what's happening with our weather to decide how I adjust the tortoises temperatures.. after gradually reducing their lighting and night heat so that there is no light other than that coming through their windows and the ceramic heat emitter is set to come on for 15 minutes every hour on the lowest setting..
if it becomes very cold then I will have the ceramic coming on in the same way through the day as well .. It may be prudent to bring the temperature up slightly if its freezing outside .
During the winter I check on my tortoises daily .. movement and consciousness is quite common .. when the outside temperature is low some will bury themselves and some will just park up in a corner . I always have fresh water available throughout the whole winter ..
This method is the safest by far and I have done this for many years now.. I have minimal weight loss and I have never lost a tortoise .