The objective of the study was to assess the usefulness of providing shade for beef cows grazing summer dry Mediterranean -pasture and supplemented with a food high in non-protein nitrogen (poultry litter). Two groups of 30 cows each, in the last trimester of pregnancy, were placed on 1 June in two paddocks of similar grazing pressure, topography, vegetation cover and botanical composition. In one of the sub-units the cows had free access to a large shaded area, provided by 10 to 12 large eucalyptus trees, whereas in the second sub-unit, access to shade was denied until 31 August. Respiration rate, used as an index of heat stress, was much higher in the non-shaded cows (102 breaths per min) than in the cows with access to shade (62 breaths per min). In response to the much higher heat stress in the non-shaded cows, total body water and haematocrit value (an index of plasma volume) were higher than in the cows with access to shade. Metabolizable energy (ME) intake was apparently much lower in the non-shaded cows, as reflected in a much higher non-esterified fatty acid concentration in plasma. Consequently, large differences in live weight gradually developed during the course of the trial, the cows with access to shade becoming much heavier than those with no access to shade. An increase in the consumption of poultry litter by the non-shaded cows was interpreted as an effort to reduce internal heat load by avoiding grazing and by preferring food which induces a lower heat increment upon ingestion and digestion. Above-normal serum concentrations of cholesterol and alkaline phosphatase support previous results that the combination of low ME intake and high ammonia load induces a toxic effect on the liver. Although all the cows were pregnant at the onset of the study, successful parturition was recorded in 26 of the 30 cows having access to shade, and in only 20 of the 30 (F < 0·05 by t test) of the non-shaded cows. It is concluded that providing shade for beef cows under summer Mediterranean conditions will reduce the danger of embryonic loss. However, an interaction with metabolic burden, such as ammonia load and a negative energy balance, can make the situation much worse.