The objectives of the study were to investigate the effects of dietary supplementation of flax hulls and/or flax oil on the activity of antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT) and glutathione peroxidase (GPX)) in plasma and the mammary gland and the relative mRNA abundance of antioxidant genes in the mammary gland of dairy cows. A total of eight dairy cows were used in a replicated 4 × 4 Latin square design. There were four treatments: control with no flax hulls (CONT), 9·88 % flax hulls in the DM (HULL), control with 500 g flax oil/d infused in the abomasum (COFO), 9·88 % flax hulls in the DM and 500 g flax oil/d infused in the abomasum (HUFO). Plasma GPX activity tended to decrease with flax oil supplementation. Cows fed HULL had higher levels of CAT, GPX1 and SOD1 mRNA in the mammary gland and lower mRNA abundance of GPX3, SOD2 and SOD3 compared with those fed CONT. Abundance of CAT, GPX1, GPX3, SOD2 and SOD3 mRNA was down-regulated in the mammary gland of cows fed HUFO compared to those fed CONT. The mRNA abundance of CAT, GPX1, GPX3 and SOD3 was lower in the mammary gland of cows fed COFO than in the mammary gland of cows fed CONT. The present study demonstrates that flax hulls contribute to increasing the abundance of some antioxidant genes, which can contribute to protecting against oxidative stress damage occurring in the mammary gland and other tissues of dairy cows.