1. Calves were given a basal diet of straw and flaked maize (12 g nitrogen/kg dry matter (DM)) or diets with some flaked maize replaced by untreated (UT) casein or formaldehyde-treated (FT) casein to give 19, 26 or 34 g N/kg DM.
2. At all intakes rumen ammonia concentrations were lower and amounts of total-N, non-ammonia-N and amino acid-N entering the duodenum were higher when FT-rather than UT-casein supplements were given.
3. Direct measurement of casein entering the duodenum indicated that giving FT rather than UT casein led to much greater amounts of dietary casein escaping degradation in the rumen (70–90% compared to 10–20%). Calculated values for fermentable N indicated that with this low degradability diets containing FT-casein would have provided inadequate N for maximum microbial synthesis in the rumen, and this probably accounted for the marked reduction in amounts of non-casein-N entering the duodenum when FT rather than UT casein was given.
4. Amino acid patterns in duodenal digesta samples after giving the basal diet or diets containing UT-casein were similar. Giving diets containing FT-casein led to changes in this pattern which could sometimes, although not always, be accounted for by estimated differences in proportions of dietary and microbial proteins.
5. At the highest level of N intake FT-casein-supplemented diets led to significantly higher concentrations of most essential amino acids and lower concentrations of most non-essential amino acids in plasma than did UT-casein-supplemented diets. Plasma urea concentrations increased with increasing N intake but were not significantly different for UT- and FT-casein-supplemented diets.