Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to explore Norwegian pig farmers' motivation for improving animal welfare, and to develop the rudiments of a more general understanding of farmers' animal welfare discourses related to motivation for improving animal welfare. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper presents a discourse analysis of qualitative interviews with 60 Norwegian pig farmers. Supplementary sources are governmental policy documents, research reports and statistics. Findings ‐ The pig farmers' motivation for improving animal welfare is a moral, economic and regulatory question. Their discourse on animal welfare must be interpreted in light of the specific contextual factors, such as public regulation and the market situation of agro-foods in Norway, which contribute to shaping the farmers' practices. Research limitations/implications ‐ An implication of the study of interest for policy makers is that many pig producers currently look upon animal welfare as a "competitive-free" zone. This appreciation impacts their attitudes towards animal welfare schemes and other measures that are intended to improve animal welfare. However, since the farmers' discourse is highly context-specific, their motivation for entering specialised animal welfare schemes is also expected to change with future changes in the economic, political and regulatory context within which they are embedded. Originality/value ‐ The paper is a first-of-its kind investigation of farmers' conception of animal welfare in Norway. It provides novel insights into the Norwegian pig farmers' definition of animal welfare, and suggests how their motivation can be understood in analytical terms.