Smells like welfare - Using odours to improve welfare and reduce stress of animals and humans working together

Last changed: 16 November 2023

Olfaction and wellbeing are highly interconnected in humans and animals. Information from odours is crucial for farm animals, although the olfactory environment is often neglected. Exposure to odours could improve animal and human welfare by contributing a less stressful shared working environment, but forming positive odours memories by use of olfactory conditioning could have even greater potential. If animals are able to form an association between an odour and a pleasant, calming experience, odours could secure a safer environment in situations where injury risk is normally high. Animals’ fear reactions are a major cause of accidents costing society of ~€270million each year. This interdisciplinary project aims to use odours to improve welfare and reduce stress of animals and humans working together. The project brings together leading scientists in farm animal olfaction and welfare, and human working environment psychology. Since stressed cattle and horses are the main cause of injuries these species are both included, and the stress-relieving effect of odours will be studied in a series of practically relevant scenarios. The project will measure stress-relieving effects in both animals and humans. The project thus links to the Sustainable Development Goals 2, 8 and 12. The surprising lack of knowledge about the olfactory environment of farm animals, underlines that this project could transform our understanding of what good welfare means for our farm animals.


Project leader and contact person:
Associate Prof Maria Vilain Rørvang,, BT, SLU

PhD student:
Johanna Stenfelt, BT, SLU

Project partners:

  • Associate Prof Anna María Palsdottir, People and Society, SLU
  • Dr Hanna Sassner, BT, SLU
  • Dr Vincent Bombail, Scottish Rural College, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Prof Björn Forkman, Copenhagen University, Denmark

Funding by:

Project period:
2024 - 2028