So here goes…
Upon hatch, let them dry off naturally in a humid incubator. Take care not to stress them out by unnecessary check ups, and watch out for crazed jumping onto the floor; these guys are quick quick quick!
Once dry, place them in a nest coop with a floor temperature of about 28 degrees, with a shallow bowl of water containing marbles. Make sure you trim their toenails very slightly with some sharp scissors as they can get completely stuck in some carpets and unable to move. It can also cause them to flip on their backs, and if unnoticed, can cause dehyrdration and stress. For the first 12 hours pop them gently onto the top of the marbles a) to show them how to drink from it b) to keep them bums clean and fresh to avoid compaction.
When mobile and the yolk sack seems fully absorbed, place them into the coop set up below (first 2 shots). This contains a 250 watt bulb set for a floor temperature of about 25 degrees. The heatlamp is hung at a distance that no matter where they are on the dry upper platform, they cannot escape the heat lamp’s influence. The black mat on the top platform has deep bobbles to help wick away moisture from damp birds, and the black surface helps to reflect heat back up onto them from the bulb. The slope beneath is lined with a different car matting which is patterned to help them grip as they climb up and down; birds don’t want to strain their legs ascending or descending. At the base of the slope is a shallow basin and an outlet. Depending on the group (how scatty they are) the plug can be anything from half an inch to 2 inches high. This allows them to drink and clean their bums, but nothing serious enough to get them soaking wet.
We never limit the access to the pond, leaving the Smew to choose as and when they wish to enter. As with many diving ducks, the jusitification is based on the assumption that IF they have a means of escape (in the form of diving in a water body) then they are often more calm around human activity. These choices are based on the fact that we cannot check on them regularly enough to guarantee that they would not dehydrate without it. We do not find that the birds get wet and saturated with this set up. The combination of sitting them on the marble dish early on and the 1 inch (average) deep pool keeps them hydrated, and the positioning of the heatlamp ensures that once out of the water the cannot help but dry off. Most problems with wet or compacted Smew appear to me to do with a coop that is the wrong size (with too many corners to hide) or over-stress. For the first day we might place a piece of Floatex at the top of the ramp on top of the whole assembly and sprinkle food along the edge until we were certain that they were eating. It goes without saying that the water is refreshed with a slowly running hose and is hosed out 4-5 times a day.
We feed Charnwood chick crumb, liberally sprinkled with 35% micro Lundi in a 5inch dish. This is supplemented with Lundi sprinkled in the water body (count the pellets if you want to know what they are eating.)
Sometimes, if after the 2nd day we are not convinced of healthy poos and food intake, we might incorporate a surrogate teal or dabbler (a small size is essential e.g. puna or ringed teal) to do a touch of ‘show and tell’. It is best for the Smew to meet the surrogate in the nest coop in advance so as not to stress them out…
Afer a full week to 10 days of the puddle setup, we go dry. The shot with the red mat below shows a typical Slimbridge dry set up, e.g. a marble jam-jar contraption. Importantly we stop feeding Lundi when they go dry, as it is often seen here as a compactor. We crumble a bit of grower onto their crumb to get their protein levels down. They are then graduated on and on up the sizes of coops before they are ready to go outside. We might give them a petri dish of soaked seaduck pellet on their last day inside, to prepare them for the depths of the deep water arnie tanks. At this point however, each to their own method. All I would say is that despite going dry mid-stage, it is vital they are graduated onto water before their pin feathers show to allow them to waterproof and exercise. A hydro-phobic Smew is no good to anyone!
I hope this adequately answers a few questions. I’d love to hear how you guys do it! Please post any questions below