Animal Welfare/Handling

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ISU information and research

Swine welfare from birth to harvest involves several scientific disciplines, which include performance, physiology, anatomy, health, and behavior. Welfare decisions must be based on sound science and are mainly related to management and not a particular production method.

Main welfare and care practices for production of swine are as follows:
From Swine Care Handbook link opens in new window/tab. (National Pork Board)

  • Providing facilities to protect and shelter pigs from weather extremes while protecting air and water quality in the environment
  • Providing well-kept facilities to allow safe, humane, and efficient movement of pigs
  • Providing personnel with training to properly care for and handle each stage of production for which they are responsible with zero tolerance for mistreatment of swine in their care
  • Providing access to good quality water and nutritionally balanced diets appropriate for each class of swine
  • Observing pigs to make sure basic needs for food and water are being met and to detect illness or injury
  • Developing herd health programs with veterinary advice
  • Providing prompt veterinary medical care when required
  • Using humane methods to euthanize sick or injured swine not responding or not likely to respond to care and treatment in a timely manner
  • Maintaining appropriate biosecurity to protect the health of the herd
  • Providing transportation that avoids undue stress caused by overcrowding, excess time in transit, or improper handling during loading and unloading

At slaughter, humane treatment and welfare practices are mandated by regulation.

The Humane Slaughter Act link opens in new window/tab (United States Code, 2014 Edition Title 7 - AGRICULTURE CHAPTER 48 - HUMANE METHODS OF LIVESTOCK SLAUGHTER)

Excerpt from section 1902 of the Humane Slaughter Act:
No method of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane. Either of the following two methods of slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane:
(a) in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or
(b) by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering.

Placement of two water bowls for the nursery pigFeed and water

Providing adequate feed and water is an essential production and animal welfare practice.

One area of research has been the pigs ability to cope with stress when selected for superior feed efficiency. This research effort is summarized in this fact sheet on the Pork Information Gateway website: How has selection for residual feed intake (RFI) affected the grow-finish pig’s ability to cope with stress?

Information regarding water requirements for all stages of pig production, the specifics to optimize water delivery to the pig, water resource location within the home pen and the ratios of pigs to the drinking resource are limited. Work at ISU has addressed the number of water bowls for nursery pigs.

Demonstrating the pig-human interaction paradigmCaretaker-pig interaction

The caretaker and pig interaction is an important welfare issue. In order to objectively assess pig-human interactions and take into account internal and external factors that may influence this relationship, ISU has been validating the pig-human interaction paradigm link opens in new window/tab , which can be defined as measuring the positive, negative and neutral interactions a pig displays towards a human.

Handling during loading and transportation

Transport losses (dead and non-ambulatory pigs) present pig welfare, legal and economic challenges to the U.S. swine industry. Pig, human and environmental factors can affect how a pig responds to loading and transport. Research is summarized in these three publications.
Marketing the finisher pig: The impact of facility design (PIG)
Handling and loadout of the finisher pig  (PIG)
Transport Losses in Market Weight Pigs: I. A Review of Definitions, Incidence, and Economic Impact link opens in new window/tab

Important design features for a loading chute include sealed ends to stop weather affecting pig movement, "concrete" type steps to help pigs move up the chute and lighting.

Loading gantry vs. traditional chute - Effect on fresh pork loin quality attributes when properly loaded link opens in new window/tab



Though making euthanasia decisions can often be difficult, timely euthanasia is an important pig welfare concept and critical tool to prevent or eliminate unnecessary suffering in situations where a pig’s recovery is highly unlikely. This fact sheet highlights ISU research on euthanasia methods for suckling pigs Alternatives to euthanasia methods to manually applied blunt force trauma for piglets weighing up to 12 lbs. (PIG)

In addition the On Farm Euthanasia for Swine guide link opens in new window/tab from National Pork Board details additional methods and procedures for effective and timely euthanasia.

Coming soon: Through the efforts of the Iowa Swine Welfare School, an on-farm euthanasia workshop for pork producers will be offered. This workshop will be a valuable tool for swine producers who wish to explore humane euthanasia methods for their pigs, and to receive caretaker training documentation that can be used in the Pork Quality Assurance Plus and the Common Swine Industry Audit programs that are required by packers.

Additional websites and resources

Iowa State University, in conjunction with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers and Iowa Department have initiated the Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC), a first-of-its-kind network of professionals, veterinarians, animal behavior scientists and farmers committed to addressing Iowans’ questions regarding farm animal care and sharing one vision - that every Iowa farm animal receives proper, humane animal care. Whether you have a question about how a farm animal is raised or you're a farmer looking for the latest livestock care resources.

 National Pork Board programs:

  1. Pork Quality Assurance Plus Program (PQA Plus) This National Pork Board program for all swine producers and handlers emphasizes proper care, pig well-being and food safety.
  2. Transport Quality Assurance Program (TQA)  This National Pork Board program for all producers and those who transport or load pigs emphasizes proper handling, loading and pig well-being.

The Common Swine Industry Audit is a pork industry program based on PQA Plus principles, and includes the additional step of an on-site third party audit. The CSIA includes 27 key aspects of swine care and pre-harvest pork safety through all phases of production. The audit covers the full lifecycle of the pig while it is on the farm, including pig handling and load-out for transportation. The audit is designed to be independent of housing designs, size of operation or geographical location. Four main areas are audited: records, animals, facilities and caretakers.

Animal welfare publications and fact sheets (National Pork Board)
Sow housing information (National Pork Board)
Swine behavior and welfare (PIG)



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