The effects of sucrose supplementation on nitrogen kinetics and energy metabolism were examined in sheep fed lucerne hay cubes using a 15N isotope dilution method and balance and respiration trials in Tsukuba, Japan in 1988. Sheep were fed lucerne hay cubes (1183 g DM/day), with or without 204 g/day sucrose, at 2 h intervals from continuous feeders. Supplementation with sucrose decreased urinary N excretion (P < 0·01), resulting in an increase in N retention from – 1·1 to + 2·0 g N/day (P < 0·01). Supplementation with sucrose resulted in no change in faeces and methane energy, a decrease in urinary energy (P < 0·01) and an increase in heat production and energy balance (P < 0·01). Sucrose supplementation also resulted in lower rumen ammonia (P < 0·05) and plasma urea concentrations (P < 0·05) and reduced urinary urea excretion (P < 0·01). The fermentation of sucrose in the rumen resulted in a decrease in rumen pH (P < 0·01) and in the acetate: propionate ratio (P < 0·05). Sucrose supplementation increased the proportion of urea transferred to the rumen (P < 0·05), non-ammonia N (NAN) concentration in the rumen (P < 0·001) and NAN flow from the rumen to the lower digestive tract (P < 0·001). Urinary allantoin excretion rate increased with sucrose supplementation (P < 0·05). The plasma glucose concentration was unchanged but plasma insulin concentration was increased with sucrose supplementation (P < 0·05). The influence of energy-rich supplements, such as sucrose, on N kinetics and the mechanism of the increase in N retention with sucrose supplementation are discussed.