To test the hypothesis that ammonia detoxification in ruminants consumes amino acids to the detriment of milk protein production, we infused four lactating dairy cows with ammonium acetate or sodium acetate in switchback experiments. Plasma ammonia concentrations increased to 411 μm within 1 h of the start of infusion of ammonium acetate at 567 mmol/h. The rate constant for ammonia clearance from plasma was 0·054/min and the half-life was 12·9 min. Infusion at 567 mmol/h for 1 h followed by 1 h without infusion, repeated four times between am- and pm-milking, caused a decrease in feed intake. Compared with sodium acetate, continuous infusion of ammonium acetate at 360 mmol/h throughout an entire 10-h milking interval increased plasma ammonia concentrations to 193 μm and caused a 20% decrease in milk, protein and lactose production with no effect on percentage composition of milk or the yield of milk fat. Arterial concentrations of glucose and non-esterified fatty acids tended to increase; there was no effect on arterial acetate, β-hydroxybutyrate or triacylglcerol, and branched-chain amino acids, Lys and Thr decreased. Mammary plasma flow, estimated by assuming 100% uptake/output of Phe+Tyr, was significantly correlated with milk yield. Mammary uptakes of acetate tended to be reduced by hyperammonaemia, but uptakes of other energy metabolites and amino acids were not affected. Thus, while an increase in amino acid consumption during hyperammonaemia was apparent from the drop in circulating concentrations of Leu, Ile, Val, Lys and Thr, there was no evidence to support the hypothesis that milk yield is affected by the lower concentrations. An ammonia-induced depression in feed intake may have caused the decrease in milk synthesis.