In this study, we sought to identify the use and non-use values that underlie farmers’ decision making with respect to animal welfare, based on in-depth interviews with 50 dairy farmers in Sweden. We identified use values related to: being able to continue the business, earning a living from the business, not being tied to the farm (i.e. having time available for other things), product quality, and work environment. We also identified non-use values related to avoidance of suffering, being able to further improve the welfare of dairy cows, the dairy farmer feeling good him/herself, ethical considerations, a feeling of doing the right thing, and animals eating properly (i.e. functioning as dairy cows should). Understanding the values underlying dairy farmers’ decision making with respect to animal welfare is an important step in understanding why these farmers work with animal welfare. The results are useful in improving communications from authorities and farm advisors to farmers, as a strategy to gain better acceptance for improved animal welfare standards; in designing product certification schemes in the food industry; and in communicating to the public the values influencing production of dairy products.