In dairy cows, the intensity of metabolic activity, associated with the negative energy balance (NEBAL), is responsible for an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and, subsequently, for the development of the condition of oxidative stress, which may overwhelm the antioxidant potential of the bovine maternal organism, making it prone to the development of many puerperal dysfunctions, as well as to an alteration of colostrum and milk quality. Given these premises, the aims of this study are to evaluate serum and milk concentrations of ROS and lipoperoxides, vitamins A and E, on the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th day postpartum of dairy cows, a particularly critical period during which the NEBAL reaches its nadir, and to compare the trends of these parameters in two different bovine breeds. The study was performed in pluriparous Italian Friesian and Brown dairy cows. On the 10th day postpartum, all cows underwent a clinical examination to exclude the presence of alterations; furthermore, on the same day, a milk sample was collected from each cow, in order to perform the somatic cell count (SCC; (CE) N. 853/2004) and to establish which of them had an SCC ⩽400 000/ml or >400 000/ml. In this study, among the 110 cows that were initially selected, the evaluation of these parameters allowed the inclusion of 80 animals, which were divided into four groups of 20 subjects each: Group F and F1: Italian Friesian healthy cows, with SCC ⩽400 000/ml and >400 000/ml, respectively; Group B and B1: Italian Brown healthy cows, with SCC ⩽400 000/ml and >400 000/ml, respectively. On the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th day postpartum, peripheral blood and milk samples were collected. The results obtained show that in group B1 there were higher concentrations of ROS and milk antioxidants compared with Friesian group cows. This datum let us suppose that even in the presence of higher ROS concentrations the antioxidant status found in group B1 seems to be able to counteract the oxidative damage, which is more likely to develop in these cows.