Nukamel Sheds Light on Milk Fat Globule Membrane's Untapped Potential in Young Animal Feeding– INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES

Source: Nukamel via Feedinfo

In livestock production the benefits of getting young animal nutrition right cannot be overstated. Proper nutrition during these early stages is not only essential for the long-term well-being and productivity of the animal but also for the health of farmer operations. By providing animals with the necessary nutrients early on, we can reduce the risk of health problems and help them reach their productive potential faster, leading to increased efficiency and higher operational yields.

Dutch young animal nutrition solutions maker, Nukamel understands this all too well and is looking to help the industry further boost the health and development of young animals with the use of milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), an ingredient that has received quite a bit of attention in human new-born nutrition. The company believes that this common component of mammalian milks can also play a vital role in young animals by improving nutrient absorption, promoting healthy gut microbiota, and reducing the risk of infections and inflammation.

In this Industry Perspectives, Nukamel CEO, Jan Druyts, along with the company’s R&D Manager, Evi Croes and Product Manager for Poultry, Steven Cools talks us through the company’s research into MFGM and its benefits in calf, piglet, and chick nutrition.

[Feedinfo] Can you give us a brief history on Nukamel please. How did the company get its start?

Jan Druyts

[Jan Druyts] Nukamel was founded in 1954 and has always been a specialist in young animal nutrition. We believe in the power of high-quality dairy to stimulate young animal development, and this has become even more important considering the fast genetic evolution of production animals. New-born animals also have a greater need for highly digestible components and dairy, which has one of the highest levels of digestibility and is rich in natural bioactives, can play an essential role in their development.

Nukamel plays the essential role of decoding the value of dairy into the highly specific needs of young animals, including

aqua. Our experts, therefore, combine fundamental and practical research to distinguish between different sources of dairy as both the nutritional value as well as the health-promoting power of dairy powders can vary a lot!

[Feedinfo] So what exactly is milk fat globule membrane (MFGM)? What are its nutritional components? And how is it produced?

[Evi Croes] Good question, as I believe MFGM is not a familiar component to most nutritionists. MFGM is a complex, three-layered membrane structure that surrounds the triacylglycerol lipid core of milk fat globules. It is naturally present in all mammalian milks where it protects the fat globules from coalescence and degradation. It is a unique assembly of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates. More than 500 proteins with diverse functions have been identified, which includes mucins, butyrophilin and lactadherin. Many of them are glycosylated, making them more resistant to digestion, thereby explaining their immune benefits and bacterial adhesion.

The majority of the MFGM associated lipids are polar, including phospholipids and sphingolipids. The ratio of the different phospholipid classes differs from vegetable sources, such as soy or sunflower. Sphingomyelin is uniquely present in milk and contributes to intestinal health and in the maturation of the nervous system.

MFGM-enriched dairy ingredients can be produced commercially from either whey or cream concentrates, with the specific compositions of fractions depending on their origin.

[Feedinfo] How exactly does MFGM contribute to the overall health of young animals? Why does Nukamel consider it such a valuable ingredient to consider in young animal feeding?

[Evi Croes] The first weeks, months or even years of an animal’s life are crucial in establishing the foundations of its future health. In addition, it is also the period when they are most vulnerable and susceptible to infections. At this time, bioactive dairy molecules contribute to a healthy start that extends later into life. Extensive and convincing literature on the role of MFGM in the development and health of new-born infants has been gathered in the last decades.

Moreover, studies on rodent and piglet models have proven the impact of MFGM on infection, inflammation, brain composition, and gut barrier integrity, as well as intestinal development.


Evi Croes
R&D Manager

The overall findings indicate MFGM’s potential as a functional ingredient for modulating microbial populations and improving intestinal health and functions in mammalian neonates. Nevertheless, all nutritional and health studies on MFGM performed on animals had a single goal of providing a model for human-, and more specifically, infant nutrition.

It is, however, very likely that MFGM is also important for milk-fed calves, piglets and lambs. Nukamel has invested in diverse studies focused on exploring the benefit of supplementing milk replacers, or pre-starter diets with MFGM-enriched ingredients. As a young animal nutrition and dairy ingredient specialist, Nukamel wants to leverage the full benefit of this unique milk constituent.

[Feedinfo] What are some of the studies you have conducted on MFGM to prove its benefits in calves, piglets and chicks? What key findings can you share with us?

[Evi Croes] One of the first studies with a particular MFGM-enriched milk replacer was performed by Nukamel in 2019, involving 75 calves. The aim of the study was to compare the inclusion of MFGM to two other highly digestible and health-promoting types of fat (coconut oil and milk fat, as present in whole milk). The evaluation was made by feeding a nutrient dense calf milk replacer (24%CP/20%CFat). Even compared to this high-quality benchmark, the MFGM fed calves grew 1- 1.5 kg more in an 8-week period. These calves also showed a higher calf starter feed intake, a low incidence of diarrhoea and needed fewer veterinary treatments per calf in case of disease. This showed the potential of MFGM in calf milk replacers to support both growth and health, and triggered Nukamel to investigate and develop new concepts containing this unique dairy component.

MFGM is one of the pillars of our newly developed transition calf milk replacer, ProtéGO milk, which is part of our ProtéGO concept. Calves receiving the ProtéGO milk in the first two weeks of life showed higher average daily gains, an increased gain to feed ratio and a reduction of incidence of serious diarrhoea cases. This was shown in different field trials too (Figure 1). The benefits of adding MFGM in milk replacers for young calves, but also piglets or lambs, mainly occur very early, immediately after the colostrum uptake. Promoting beneficial bacteria colonisation, improving gut barrier integrity, antimicrobial activity, and immune modulation are proven impacts of MFGM in human and animal studies.

Steven Cools
Product Manager for Poultry

[Steven Cools] One of the particular aspects of MFGM is that it also improves fat digestibility and metabolism. Therefore, Nukamel incorporated it in another novel concept as well, called Volamel Compass. The absorption of dietary fats and oils by young animals is limited due to the immaturity of the digestive system. Volamel Compass navigates the fat and makes sure it is converted into dynamic energy, rather than inert energy storage. The young animal is now able to use all the available energy for lean and healthy growth. And this has a long-lasting effect on the further development of the animal. 

More efficient use of energy leads to better performance, which was shown in different trials on broilers (Figure 2) as well as early weaned piglets (Figure 3). Moreover, Volamel Compass leads to more uniform and lean growth. Trials show a clear decrease in abdominal fat pad and hepatic lipidosis, while increasing flock uniformity.


[Feedinfo] Earlier you mentioned that you think nutritionists might not be very familiar with MFGM. How widespread is its adoption in young animal nutrition currently?

[Evi Croes] The feed industry is not familiar with MFGM. And to be frank, in general they often do not differentiate at all between the various qualities of dairy ingredients. Dairy ingredients are valued based on mere protein and lactose levels. For decades, Nukamel has been aiming to distinguish the real nutritional value and bioactivity of milk components for the young animal. We focus on heat treatment of whey to guarantee only minimal losses of the natural bioactivity of heat-sensitive proteins, e.g., immunoglobulins. Moreover, only low-heat milk powders are being used in our milk replacers to ensure proper clotting of casein proteins in the stomach of the young animal. Digging deeper into the real nutritional value of dairy pays off. Nukamel has shown in several studies that the use of high-quality ingredients increases performance and supports health of the young animal.

So, despite MFGM being a normal addition in infant formulae nowadays, it’s still a novel component in young animal nutrition. In 1954, Nukamel was at the forefront of developing the concept of calf milk replacers. And again today, Nukamel is the first animal nutrition company ever to consider MFGM as a potent bioactive milk component to support the growth of new-born piglets, calves, and even broilers.

[Feedinfo] So what is Nukamel’s strategy to increase awareness around MFGM?

[Jan Druyts] For Nukamel it is crucial to understand that dairy has very unique properties. Not only MFGM but it also contains many different proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and minerals, all with their specific activities as nutrients but also as functional molecules (e.g., antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, growth factors, immune modulating). Nukamel identifies these and applies them for growth, feed conversion, health and other benefits. It requires very detailed research to identify properties and select the sources needed.

Regarding MFGM, awareness of the use and benefits in young animal nutrition needs to be changed. Therefore, we provide customers with information in the form of white papers, articles concerning the use of MFGM in different species, and which benefits to expect. Much of this information is also available on our website.

[Feedinfo] In calf milk replacers dairy components can often be a very expensive part of formulations. Yet Nukamel is advocating for a milk-derived ingredient here. How do you alleviate these concerns for CMR producers looking to cut costs?

[Jan Druyts] Indeed a very valid question. The reason for using these high-quality ingredients and products is because it results in an improved performance and health status (higher milk production, faster calving, less antibiotic use, a better slaughter weight or reduced feed conversion). We all know a good start can make the difference and we can appreciate the need to make use of this very unique window of opportunity. Investing in the early stages of animal development can help boost earnings later on.  We also call this the epigenetic effect. It is not merely the cost of the product that counts, but it is also the cost of a litre milk or a kilogramme of meat that makes farmers profitable at the end of the day.

[Feedinfo] In your own words, you are the “first animal nutrition company ever to consider MFGM as a potent bioactive milk component”. So what other innovations in young animal nutrition do you currently have in the works? What should we be keeping an eye on from Nukamel?

[Jan Druyts] As mentioned, milk still contains a lot of unknown factors and Nukamel will continue doing research to discover the benefits. It is our goal to provide sustainable solutions to farmers to further reduce the use of antibiotics. We strongly believe in the saying that “prevention is better than cure”.

To give you a sneak peek, one of the studies we conducted in cooperation with Ghent University (Prof. Van Immerseel/Prof. Ducatelle; Livestock Gut Health Team Ghent, Department of Pathobiology, Pharmacology and Zoological Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) looked at elucidating the role of milk in the development of necro-haemorrhagic enteritis (enterotoxaemia) in calves (caused by Clostridium perfringens). Results are currently being patented, after which publications on this exciting topic will follow.


Published in association with Nukamel.