Great State: Grazing Animals are Nothing New in Oklahoma So How About a herd of African Tortoises

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STROUD, OKLAHOMA -- It's a little early in the spring for Derek Wikel to rely on just grass to feed his livestock.

That's why he augments with cabbage, bananas, and watermelon.

His herd of African Sulcata Tortoises deserve nothing if not the best.

"They eat a lot of vegetables," he says. "Basically, if you can grow it in a garden, they'll eat it."

They come crawling without the prompt of a feed truck horn.

They tuck into dinner more like slow hogs than hungry grazers.

"They like watermelon the best," he says while watching them compete for a juicy, red piece.

He would know.

Wikel has been rasing these animals for a decade now.

"I'm a full-blown turtle farmer," he says proudly.

"What's that like?" asks a visitor.

"It's a blast," he replies. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Wikel only had one tortoise for several years, but he wanted to try breeding them so he bought a female too.

These days he can count on close to a hundred babies every year.

Customers often come right out to the pasture to pick one for themselves.

"They come out here, play with the babies, and choose the tortoise life."

Wikel raises Leopard Tortoises too, but he's most fond of his Sulcatas.

Derek appreciates what he calls their abundance of personality.

He says, "They really get to know you. They come to you and want to be fed and want you to rub their shell. They're really cool animals."

They pass the cold winters in a heated shed.

The smallest, youngest tortoises stay in a big aquarium until they're older.

Tortoise ranching isn't just a passing fancy for the Wikels either.

They never really stop growing.

These animals can live upwards of 189 years if properly cared for.

They move slow, but if Derek has his way they'll move quickly into the summer pasture of many more Oklahoma hearts.

For more information on Sulcata tortoises or the Wikel's operation go to http://www.wikelsulcatafarm.webs.com or http://www.facebook.com/wikelsulcatafarm

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