PIGS ARE omnivores. They will eat anything they come across; grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small insects; using their powerful noses, not just for sniffing and locating but also for rooting up the ground in their search for food, they are remarkable creatures.

The wild pig lives in a social group of normally about twenty animals, only the mature boar is a solitary animal. Their daily routine consists of resting and sleeping or searching for food. Pigs are mainly nocturnal by nature, foraging from dusk until dawn.

In the middle ages domestic pigs were used to clean the streets by eating any refuse discarded by the general population. But they became such a nuisance that in 1292 four men were appointed as killers of swine', with a licence to slaughter any pig found wandering the King's highways.

Pigs for centuries were commonly kept in cottage backyards all over Britain. They were fed on various household scraps from the kitchen, whey from cheese making, skimmed milk from the butter churn or any undersized root vegetables. All this food the pig would consume with great enthusiasm and in time it would produce wonderful meat for all to enjoy.

This sounds a wonderful way to keep a pig or two but there is a very big problem as regards disease, particularly foot and mouth' and classical swine fever'.

The foot and mouth virus can lie dormant in meat for a long period of time. When it is eaten by a pig it is activated again and because the virus is very contagious it can spread rapidly through the area.

After the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease the practise of feeding waste food (or swill as it was called) became illegal. The situation now is very clear - do not feed any waste food to your pigs - especially if it has been in a domestic house!

It is still legal to feed some types of waste feed to your pigs under certain circumstances (i.e. fruit, vegetables or diary products) but you have to know the history. I would recommend that you should check with an expert from DEFRA first. They also produce a very good guide. Remember- if in doubt then do not feed it to your pigs.

So how does the average small holder feed their pigs? Well the easiest way is to contact the local feed mill or supplier and enquire if they sell pig feed. They will hopefully be able to provide you with a compound feed which contains all the correct protein levels, minerals, vitamins and is nutritionally well balanced. It will usually come in the form of solid pellets (which is easy to handle) or a dry meal.

If you only have one or two pigs it is probably easier to buy it in 25 KG sacks. All you need to do is to enquire if they have any in stock and you can pick it up yourself from the mill or store.

Do not be tempted to buy a large amount of feed in one go unless it can be used up within a month.

Be very careful of mice and rats. Good quality pig feed will draw in vermin from miles around! Certainly you need to avoid feed being spilt on the floor. I remember calling in on a smallholder a few years ago when they were taking two ton deliveries at a time and it was being blown onto the floor of an empty loose box. The farm was over run with rats!

Nutrition needs to be kept simple, new born piglets will suckle off mum and so get all their nutritional requirements via her.

As they get to about two to three weeks of age they will be starting to root about in the ground, taking some of mum's food, or chewing on straw or other materials. This is perfectly natural and should be encouraged.

There is a lot talked about high protein levels of young piglets feed but this is only really relevant if you remove the piglets from mum at about three to four weeks of age. I would always recommend weaning at about six weeks of age but they can be left for longer if needed.

Once weaned, the piglets will still prefer to all eat together at the same time, just as when suckling from mum. A six-week-old piglet would be very hardy and should be used to eating solid feed. There are rearer' diets that can be used but I have known plenty of pigs kept on one diet from being weaned off mum at six weeks through to adult hood and they have thrived.

What is more important is how much to feed your pigs and this is not made any easier because a healthy pig can have a very big appetite. As a rule of thumb, with a thin sow you will be able to see or feel its backbone and it will constantly squeal for food at any time of the day.

A fat sow will often have small rolls of fat around the head of its tail and, although initially could show interest in food (if at all) will often not finish its meal and wander off. A young growing pig can be fed large quantities of feed and is generally not a problem but adult pigs will often need restricting. Apart from the health aspects it is important to watch your pig's body condition.

Another very important factor as regards pig feeding is the problem with bullying. Pigs have a strong social order and can be very aggressive towards one another. As explained earlier, pigs like to feed altogether at the same time but this can cause a problem because it is often a desperate race to consume as much food as quickly as possible.

Remember, pigs do like their grub. I personally think the sight of a healthy pen or paddock of pigs, all eagerly consuming their feed, is a joyous sight.