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Constructing a Turtle or Tortoise Pen

There are many reasons to house turtles and tortoises outside. More room can be offered than indoors. Unfiltered sunlight contains high amounts of beneficial ultraviolet radiation. Certain turtles and tortoises will also feed on the weeds and grasses that grow in their pen, adding variation to their diet they would not normally receive if kept indoors. Unfortunately, some environments are not suitable for keeping turtles and tortoises outside. To keep your turtle or tortoise outside year round, the climate you live in must match that of where the turtle or tortoise is native to. Tropical species may have trouble coping with the dry conditions found in arid regions. Additionally, in temperate regions it’s usually necessary to bring your turtle or tortoise indoors for half the year, housing it outside only when it’s warm enough.

The pen photographed was constructed in June of 2001 for a box turtle. It measures 6 feet by 4 feet. The materials needed to construct it cost roughly $100 (US) and include:

  • 1 12' cedar 1x12
  • 1 8' cedar 1x12
  • 1 8' cedar 4x4 post
  • 3 12' cedar 1x2
  • 1 4' cedar 1x12
  • 30 8in wide by 16in long patio bricks
  • 10 regular sized bricks or rocks of that size
  • 25' of 2' wide chicken wire
  • 5' of 4' wide garden screen with 1/2 inch holes
  • Peat Moss
  • Plastic Paint Tray

Step One: First I looked for the location that I wanted to build the turtle pet. I wanted a location that was in direct sunlight for most of the day, but always would have an area that was shaded. I chose to build it near the house because the spot recieves sunlight all day long but the house keeps another part of it shaded.

Step Two: Next, a hole was dug that measured 6' long by 4' wide by 1' deep. We then took an edger and made the sides of the hole as straight and even as we could so that the bricks would stand up on the sides straight. The bottom of the hole doesn't have to be perfectly even because you’re just going to lay chicken wire over it.

Step Three: After digging the hole we made the frame of the enclosure. First we cut the 12' and 8' long 1x12 boards in half so we had two 6' and two 4' long boards. Then we cut the 8' long 4x4 into four equal pieces so that we had four 2' long 4x4 posts. Then we attached the 4' boards to two of the 2' long 4x4 posts leaving a foot of the 4x4 post sticking out below the boards. After that we put the 6' foot boards on the sides to complete the frame. We then carried the frame over and stuck it inside the hole.

Step Four: After the frame was completed we cut the chicken wire into three 8' long strips and then took the wooden frame out of the hole. The chicken wire is to prevent my turtle from digging his way out of the pen. We laid the chicken wire in the bottom of the hole and folded the extra foot on each side down. Then we put bricks over parts of it that were sticking up. In some cages people use perforated bricks on the bottom but they didn't have those at the store we went to and they are probably more expensive than chicken wire. Once the chicken wire was in we put the wooden frame back in again.

Step Five: Next we put the 8 inch wide and 16 inch long patio bricks on end around the bottom of the sides to prevent the turtle from escaping.

Step Six: Refill with dirt. Peat moss was added to change the consistency of the soil.

Step Seven: After filling the cage up with soil it was time for us to make the cage cover. I chose to use a cover mostly to protect my turtle from our dogs and other animals although some people choose not to use a cover. First we made the frame of the cover. We cut the 12' 1x2 boards into two 5' 1x2 boards and two 44 inch boards. Then we took those pieces of wood and the 5' 1x12 and laid them out on the ground. We attached it all together with right angle and T brackets. Then we stapled the metal garden screen to the cover.

All we did after that was attach the cover to the cage with three brass hinges, plant the cage and put the water dish (paint tray) in. The whole project took about seven hours to do with two people.

Last update 06.27.05