Twenty-one mature autumn-calving Blue Grey cows were divided into three groups for a 3-year change-over experiment, and each group was allocated to one of three planes of nutrition for the first 150 days of lactation during each year. Milk yields were recorded by machine milking twice daily. The three planes of nutrition corresponded to 1·63, 1·21 and 0·89 of the cow's maintenance allowance 12 h post partum. Increasing the plane of nutrition significantly (P<0·05) increased 150-day cumulative milk yield, but had no significant effect on milk composition. The extent of live-weight loss decreased significantly (P<0·001) as plane of nutrition increased and was reflected in cows maintaining better condition, measured as condition score, through the experimental period. The small 150-day cumulative milk yield response (32·8 kg per additional 10 MJ metabolizable energy and 62 g digestible crude protein/day) demonstrated the limitation of feeding beef cows for increased milk production in comparison with feeding the calf directly. However, the possible relationship between plane of nutrition, live-weight loss and fertility suggests an important limitation of under-feeding cows during the mating period. Within the constraints imposed, the medium treatment (64 MJ metabolizable energy and 516 g digestible crude protein/day) resulted in levels of cow performance similar to those currently recorded in commercial units. One of the major constraints in the present investigation was the high level of body reserves available in the cows at the start of lactation.