Large parenteral doses of vitamin D3 (15 to 17.5 x 10(6) IU vitamin D3) were associated with prolonged hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, and large increases of vitamin D3 and its metabolites in the blood plasma of nonlactating nonpregnant and pregnant Jersey cows. Calcium concentrations 1 day postpartum were higher in cows treated with vitamin D3 about 32 days prepartum (8.8 mg/100 ml) than in control cows (5.5 mg/100 ml). None of the cows treated with vitamin D3 showed signs of milk fever during the peripartal period; however, 22% of the control cows developed clinical signs of milk fever during this period. Signs of vitamin D3 toxicity were not observed in nonlactating nonpregnant cows; however, pregnant cows commonly developed severe signs of vitamin D3 toxicity and 10 of 17 cows died. There was widespread metastatic calcification in the cows that died. Because of the extreme toxicity of vitamin D3 in pregnant Jersey cows and the low margin of safety between doses of vitamin D3 that prevent milk fever and doses that induce milk fever, we concluded that vitamin D3 cannot be used practically to prevent milk fever when injected several weeks prepartum.