The milk production, energy balance (EB), endocrine and metabolite profiles of 10 New Zealand Holstein Friesian (NZ) cows and 10 North American Holstein Friesian (NA) cows were compared. The NA cows had greater peak milk yields and total lactation milk yields (7387 v. 6208 kg; s.e.d. = 359), lower milk fat and similar protein concentrations compared with the NZ cows. Body weight (BW) was greater for NA cows compared with NZ cows throughout lactation (596 v. 544 kg; s.e.d. = 15.5), while body condition score (BCS) tended to be lower. The NA strain tended to have greater dry matter intake (DMI) (17.2 v. 15.7 kg/day; s.e.d. = 0.78) for week 1 to 20 of lactation, though DMI as a proportion of metabolic BW was similar for both strains. No differences were observed between the strains in the timing and magnitude of the EB nadir, interval to neutral EB, or mean daily EB for week 1 to 20 of lactation. Plasma concentrations of glucose and insulin were greater for NA cows during the transition period (day 14 pre partum to day 28 post partum). Plasma IGF-I concentrations were similar for the strains at this time, but NZ cows had greater plasma IGF-I concentration from day 29 to day 100 of lactation, despite similar calculated EB. In conclusion, the results of this study do not support the premise that the NZ strain has a more favourable metabolic status during the transition period. The results, however, indicate that NZ cows begin to partition nutrients towards body reserves during mid-lactation, whereas NA cows continue to partition nutrients to milk production.