the objective of this research was to evaluate the effect of increasing levels of cp in the total dm of diet (11.5, 13.0, 14.5 and 16.0%) on the intakes and the total digestibility of nutrients and the milk production and composition of dairy cows in initial third of lactation. the research was constituted by four experimental periods of 15 days each, seven for adaptation of the animals to the diet and eight for data collection. eight cows, individually fed, were distributed to two balanced 4 × 4 latin squares. a cottonseed meal, ground corn-based concentrate (40%) was used and, as forage, sugar cane corrected with 1% of urea + ammonium sulfate (9:1), in the proportion of 60% (%dm). the daily average intakes of nutrients, except for ee and nfc, differed as the levels of cp increased in the diet. the protein levels in the diet did not affected the coefficients of total apparent digestibility of the nutrients. production of fat corrected milk, 3.5% or not and its components (fat, cp and lactose), expressed in g/day, and milk urea nitrogen showed increased linear effect, while the n efficiency showed negative linear effect of the cp levels in the diet. the diet with 16% cp provided values numerically greater for intake and milk production and its components as compared to diets with lower levels of cp.