The mass flow-rate (FR) of milk from the bovine teat within individual pulsation cycles was measured by continuous computation of the average optical density of the milk–air mixture within a teatcup. Measurements during milking were made on both live and excised teats using a range of teatcup liners, vacuum levels and pulsation characteristics. During a typical pulsation cycle, soon after the start of milking, milk FR from live teats reached a peak within 100 ms of the start of the flow period and fell to about 60% of the maximum value between 0·5 and 1·5 s of flow. If the liner was held open for longer than 1·5 s, the FR typically declined a further 10% over the next 10–15 s. After 10–15 s little or no further change occurred in milk FR at normal milking vacuum levels. Milk flow from excised teats reached a steady value within 100 ms of the start of the flow period and showed no subsequent fall in FR.
Within individual pulsation cycles the changes in FR from live teats are affected by: (i) the degree of compressive load applied by the collapsed liner to the teat in the preceding cycle; and (ii) the duration of application of the compressive load. Increasing the degree of compressive load or the length of time of loading increases the peak milk FR of the next cycle by reducing the degree of congestion in the tissues of the teat surrounding the teat canal. Muscular effects are of secondary importance. The relatively small changes in milk FR associated with muscle contractions of the teat can be seen most clearly at low milking vacuum levels (below about 30 kPa) or with an unsupported teat (e.g. using a very distensible, thin-walled liner).