The link between positive animal welfare early in life and enhanced immune competence in dairy cows

Last changed: 13 September 2023

This project addresses how optimization of the social environment of young dairy calves on farms can be a powerful tool to enhance their abilities to cope with challenges and boost their immune competence.

The hypothesis to be tested is that enhanced immunity is mediated by oxytocin release, resulting from pleasant experiences. The specific aims are:

  • To assess the effects of tactile stimulation on oxytocin release and its role as a mediator of neuroendocrine and immune capacity
  • To assess how the early social environment affects calves' immune capacity, stress and behaviour
  • To investigate the long-term effects of different rearing strategies on health, performance and social abilities in dairy cattle

Photo: Jenny Svennås-Gillner, SLU

This project takes a multidisciplinary approach and involves close collaboration with leading research groups in the Netherlands and Ireland. The project is financed by Formas and is a part of Centre of Excellence in Animal Welfare Science.

Contact: Daiana de Oliveira


Wenker, M.L., van Reenen, C.G., de Oliveira, D., McCrea. K., Verwer, C.M., Bokkers, E.A.M., 2021. Calf-directed affiliative behaviour of dairy cows in two types of cow-calf contact systems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 243, October 2021, 105461.