Four studies were conducted to compare the effect of four indigestible markers (LiCoEDTA, Yb-acetate, Cr-mordanted straw and indigestible neutral-detergent fibre (INDF)) and three marker systems on the flow of digesta entering the omasal canal of lactating dairy cows. Samples of digesta aspirated from the omasal canal were pooled and separated using filtration and high-speed centrifugation into three fractions defined as the liquid phase, small particulate and large particulate matter. Co was primarily associated with the liquid phase, Yb was concentrated in small particulate matter, whilst Cr and INDF were associated with large particles. Digesta flow was calculated based on single markers or using the reconstitution system based on combinations of two (Co + Yb, Co + Cr and Co + INDF) or three markers (Co + Yb + Cr and Co + Yb + INDF). Use of single markers resulted in large differences between estimates of organic matter (OM) flow entering the omasal canal suggesting that samples were not representative of true digesta. Digesta appeared to consist of at least three phases that tended to separate during sampling. OM was concentrated in particulate matter, whilst the liquid phase consisted mainly of volatile fatty acids and inorganic matter. Yb was intimately associated with nitrogenous compounds, whereas Cr and INDF were concentrated in fibrous material. Current data indicated that marker systems based on Yb in combination with Cr or INDF are required for the accurate determination of OM, N and neutral-detergent fibre flow. In cases where the flow of water-soluble nutrients entering the omasal canal is also required, the marker system should also include Co.