This study was conducted to evaluate the development of the mammary gland in Holstein heifers subjected to different dietary metabolisable protein (MP): metabolisable energy (ME) ratios. Twenty-five Holstein heifers (initial body weight (BW) 213±13·5 kg and initial average age 7·8±0·5 months) were divided into five treatments. The treatments were designed to provide MP:ME ratios equal to 33, 38, 43, 48, and 53 g of MP per Mcal of ME. All diets were formulated to have the same energy content (2·6 Mcal ME/kg dry matter). Actual MP:ME ratios were 36·2, 40·2, 46·2, 47·1, and 50·8 g MP/Mcal ME. The experiment was conducted in a randomised block design, while considering initial BW as a blocking factor to evaluate pre- and post-pubertal periods. Block effect was not observed for all variables evaluated; hence it was considered that the diets had the same influence both on pre- and post-pubertal phases. Dry matter and nutrient intake did not change between treatments, excepting protein intake and digestibility. Serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor 1 increased linearly across treatments. Changes in the pixel brightness of mammary gland ultrasound images, which are associated with lipid content, were significantly influenced by MP:ME ratios in the diet of heifers that were subjected to accelerated growth rates. It is not recommended to use diets of less than 38 g MP/Mcal ME in diets to heifers allowed to gain more than 1 kg/d.