Swine Behavior and Well-Being

Animal welfare (PDF) continues to gain interest with both consumers and producers. Understanding animal welfare, or how an animal interacts with its surroundings, has been the work of Yuzhi Li since 2005. To ensure animal welfare, we need to understand the behavior of animals under production conditions and take care of animals based on their instinct. At the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), we strive to develop management strategies to improve swine welfare through ethological approaches.

Gestating sows

WCROC Swine, gestating sowsAggression among sows in a group-housing environment has been one area of focus in our research. By seeking to understand the hierarchical social structure of swine and identify factors that may lead to fighting among sows at mixing time, we aim to develop management strategies that enhance welfare and performance of group-housed gestating sows, while minimizing the risk of injury to the animals. We've completed studies on protecting low ranking sows (PDF), as well as looking at ways to minimize aggression of sows at mixing.

Lactating sows and offspring

Our research with lactating sows and their offspring involves factors that affect piglet survival. Scientists evaluate sows, piglets and housing environments. A recent study conducted at the WCROC evaluated the role of maternal fear (PDF) on piglet vitality.

Nursery, growing and finishing pigs

WCROC nursery, growing and finishing pigsWith a variety of housing environments available for swine producers, we evaluate and study the affects of different housing systems on the welfare of animals. Scientists study the behavior and performance of pigs previously housed in large groups (PDF), as well as how nursery pigs respond to reduced nocturnal temperatures (PDF).

  • Effects of familiarity and weight variation (PDF) on aggression among grow-finish pigs following regrouping
  • Pigs that grow slower than their contemporaries can cause complications for animal welfare and profitability.  We conducted a study to investigate factors that may contribute to slow growth in pigs. (Procedure and Results)
  • Although Minnesota is known for its cold winters, most pig production losses due to climate occur in our periods of warm/hot temeratures and high humidity.  Our Heat Stress study addressed pig performance during hot weather conditions. 

Additional information

  • The Zinpro Corporation funded a project at the WCROC which focuses on dietary zinc's role in mitigating the crowding-induced depression in growth performance of finishing pigs.  Our swine undergraduate intern, Julia Holen, earned the Swine Research and Education Experience award through National Pork Board to evaulate this study.  Find out more about our zinc study.
  • Understanding pain in piglets to improve welfare


For more information on swine behavior and welfare research, contact Yuzhi Li at 320-589-1711 or yuzhili@morris.umn.edu

Evaluating the piglet grimace scale as a method of acute pain assessment


Minnesota Impacts Swine Welfare