Sixty-five Holstein–Friesian calves were randomly allocated to one of eight nutritional treatments at 4 days of age. In this factorial design study, the treatments comprised of four levels of milk replacer (MR) mixed in 6 l of water (500, 750, 1000 and 1250 g/day) × two crude protein (CP) concentrations (230 and 270 g CP/kg dry matter (DM)). MR was fed via automatic teat feeders and concentrates were offered via automated dispensers during the pre-wean period. MR and calf starter concentrate intake were recorded until weaning with live weight and body measurements recorded throughout the rearing period until heifers entered the dairy herd at a targeted 24 months of age. There was no effect of MR protein concentration on concentrate or MR intake, and no effect on body size or live weight at any stage of development. During the pre-weaning period, for every 100 g increase in MR allowance, concentrate consumption was reduced by 39 g/day. While, for every 100 g increase in the amount of MR offered, live weight at days 28 and 270 increased by 0.76 and 2.61 kg, respectively (P < 0.05). Increasing MR feed levels increased (P < 0.05) heart girth and body condition score at recordings during the first year of life, but these effects disappeared thereafter. Increasing MR feeding level tended to reduce both age at first observed oestrus and age at first service but no significant effect on age at first calving was observed. Neither MR feeding level nor MR CP content affected post-calving live weight or subsequent milk production. Balance measurements conducted using 44 male calves during the pre-weaning period showed that increasing milk allowance increased energy and nitrogen (N) intake, diet DM digestibility, true N digestibility and the biological value of the dietary protein. Increasing the MR protein content had no significant effect on the apparent digestibility of N or DM.