Piglets, separated from their dam at 12 days of age and fed a milk substitute hourly, were used as a model for suckling. Animals were fitted with a terminal ileal T-cannula and a jugular vein catheter. At 28 days of age, half of the pigs had a dietary change to a cereal-based weaner diet fed as slurry, and the others remained on milk substitute. Animals were labelled by oral administration of 15N-labelled yeast for 10 days (days 15 to 25). Blood samples were taken twice a day to monitor 15N enrichment of the blood plasma. Diets included polyethylenglycol (PEG 4000) to allow calculation of apparent ileal digestibility of nitrogen and individual amino acids. Ileal bacterial nitrogen was calculated from D-alanine content of the digesta. Furthermore, small intestinal (SI) villus height and crypt depth were measured. Feed intake was increased by the dietary change. The total nitrogen flow was 3.2 ± 0.4 g/day and 5.9 ± 0.4 for the milk and weaner diet, respectively. Endogenous nitrogen flow at the terminal ileum was similar for both groups (milk diet 2.4 ± 0.4 v. weaner diet 2.2 ± 0.3 g/day), whereas the bacterial nitrogen content (0.08 ± 0.01 g/day milk diet v. 0.15 ± 0.01 g/day weaner diet, P < 0.01) and exogenous nitrogen flow (0.94 ± 0.16 g/day milk diet v. 3.29 ± 0.12 g/day weaner diet, P < 0.001) increased significantly in the weaner-diet group. The ileal apparent digestibility coefficient of protein was 0.81 ± 0.06 and 0.68 ± 0.01 for the milk replacer and the weaner diet, respectively. Morphology measurements made along the SI at 25%, 50% and 75% were similar between piglets fed milk replacer and those fed a cereal-based weaner diet. The only statistical effect (P < 0.01) of dietary change was an increase in crypt depth in the weaner-diet group. In conclusion, pigs, following a dietary change analogous to weaning, lack the capacity to fully digest a standard weaner diet. This may result in an increased nutrient content entering the large intestine and an altered microbiota. In the absence of a period of anorexia, often associated with traditional weaning, we saw no evidence of villous atrophy, but report here a significant crypt hyperplasia, especially at the 75% level, as a result of dietary change.