Abstract Sixteen multiparous Holstein/Friesian cows were used to examine the effect on food intake and milk production of replacing 40% of the dry matter (DM) of first cut perennial ryegrass silage (G) with either maize silage (M), fermented (F) or urea-treated (U) wheat whole crop silage. In addition to the forage mixtures, the animals received 5.25 kg DM d −1 of a standard concentrate and 1.75 kg DM d −1 of soya bean meal. The experiment consisted of four periods, each of 4 weeks duration, in a Latin square design. The grass silage used was of high quality with an estimated metabolizable energy (ME) content of 11.4 MJ kg −1 DM and in vitro digestibility of 748 g kg −1 DM. DM intake was significantly increased (s.e.d. = 0.364, P < 0.01) with the inclusion of M, F and U. The resulting total DM intakes were 17.6, 18.4, 19.2 and 20.1 kg d −1 for treatments G, M, F and U respectively. None of the animal production variables was significantly affected by the treatments. Milk yield was 27.4, 26.4, 27.1 and 26.9 kg d −1 for treatments G, M, F and U respectively. Milk fat content was 48.9, 46.9, 49.0 and 48.1 g kg −1, and milk protein content was 34.1, 33.6, 34.0 and 34.3 g kg −1 for treatments G, M, F and U respectively. The results show that partly (40%) replacing a high-quality grass silage with forage maize, fermented whole crop wheat or urea-treated whole crop wheat will increase DM intake in dairy cows but is not accompanied by an increase in animal performance and therefore will result in decreased efficiency of forage DM utilization.