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.

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Gestating sows

Aggression 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

With 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.

  • Effects of familiarity and weight variation
  • 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 (.pdf) and Results (.pdf))
  • Although Minnesota is known for its cold winters, most pig production losses due to climate occur in our periods of warm/hot temperatures and high humidity. Our Heat Stress study (.pdf) addressed pig performance during hot weather conditions.

Additional information

  • Pork producers and industry professionals have expressed the need to decrease pre-weaning mortality rates in piglets, and University of Minnesota researchers are uniquely poised to take on the challenge. While feeding zinc supplementation during a sow’s gestation period has shown to influence pig performance after birth, this new research project aims to determine the timing and duration of zinc that may influence “fetal imprinting” to optimize health and performance.
  • Understanding pain in piglets to improve welfare

Outreach & Education

Swine outreach efforts focus on the production of high-quality pork within sustainable systems. Outreach projects address important issues facing pork producers, such as enhancing animal welfare and maintaining profitability of pork production systems, as well as biosecurity considerations. For further information and a listing of educational opportunities, refer to the Swine Extension site.