Lupins and maize, with similar concentrations of metabolisable energy, should produce similar responses in colostrum production at parturition when fed during the last week of pregnancy, but, in the present study, we tested the proposal that the physical form of whole lupins would restrict intake and, therefore, the response compared with cracked lupins or maize. Fifty-five twin-bearing ewes were divided into four groups: in the last 15 days of pregnancy, 14 were fed whole lupins, 13 were fed cracked lupins, 14 were fed cracked maize and 14 received no supplement. The cracked supplements were fed in increasing amounts for 6 days to avoid acidosis. The whole lupins were fed only from Day -8. All supplementary grains increased the intake of metabolisable energy by >35%, but only ewes eating maize accumulated significantly more colostrum at parturition: control, 207 g; cracked maize, 452 g; cracked lupins, 206 g; whole lupins, 231 g (P < 0.05). Plasma urea concentrations were extremely high (approximately 10 mmol L-1) for both groups eating lupins and approximately double those of control ewes or those receiving maize (P < 0.05). We conclude that gut distention is not a cause of a poor response to lupins, but the ammonia associated with near-toxic concentrations of plasma urea may be affecting the production of colostrum.