When Sophie Dubois of Mirabel, QC, received the dreaded diagnosis of advanced asthma in her horse Jasper, her vet recommended a relatively new technology to help alleviate the distressing symptoms of coughing, wheezing and reduced tolerance to exercise. Sophie was so impressed at the remarkable difference it made in her horse, she bought the company, along with business partner Eric St-Arnault.

Danielle Levac and Serge Guay. (courtesy Sophie Dubois)

The Nutri-Foin system (‘foin’ is the French word for ‘hay’), invented, developed and launched in Quebec by Danielle Levac and Serge Guay in 2017, uses a patented process to integrate an agent based on 100% natural soybean oil into the fibre of the hay to neutralize dust and allergens and add nutritional value. Basically, flakes of hay are tumbled gently in a large hopper-like machine as the neutralizer is gradually dispensed. The process takes about 11 minutes and can handle 45 lbs of hay at a time, neutralizing dust and allergens that are partly responsible for lung problems in horses, boosting the energy component of the hay, and improving digestibility. Hay can be safely stored for several days, as the process does not use water.

So how did this intriguing invention come about? Not surprisingly, it was born of necessity.

Danielle explains, “Being the owner of a boarding stable, we had several asthmatic horses and we had to wet the hay constantly. The wet hay ended up drying out in the boxes, creating dust and mould, and a lot of waste.

“With global warming, good hay with minimal dust is becoming increasingly difficult to produce. We thought of using soybean oil in our hay because it was used in feed to reduce dust. Not sure of the results, we started feeding our own horses with this processed hay. Quickly, we saw great improvements, especially in terms of the quality of their hair, but especially with the fact that they no longer coughed at all!” They also noticed that the horses had good energy, and that colic became almost non-existent at the barn.

Their boarders started requesting that their own horses be fed the treated hay, and things took off from there. Their veterinarian asked to try the hay on other client’s asthmatic ponies and horses, and the results were so encouraging that “We asked the owners of asthmatic horses who had no more solutions to bring them to us so that we could give them this treated hay. Within days, the problem was under control and Nutri-Foin was born! It was impossible for us to hide the solution, because we wanted to share it with a greater number of horses.”

Originally, the plan was to market the treated hay, “but this option was unfortunately unviable. We then thought of another option, and it was in 2015 that another step in the Nutri-Foin adventure was reached.”

Encouraged by their veterinarian, a series of machine prototypes were developed, “some of which are still in operation!” says Danielle proudly. Allowing people to treat their own hay on-site allowed the pair to offer Nutri-Foin technology to a broader scope of horse owners. “After only a few days, we were receiving calls from machine owners in tears of joy because their horse had regained its health,” says Danielle. “Some of these horses were condemned and thanks to our technology, a new life was offered to them.”

This promising information provided even more incentive. “We spent five years of research and development between the very first tests and the commercialization of the machine, but we wanted it to be solid, safe, easy-to-use and built with components that would not be damaged,” explains Danielle. “Our first machine in its final version was sold in 2017; with each machine sold, we received the same message a few days later of relief and joy from the owners of sick horses. This is our greatest reward.”

Sophie Dubois and Éric St-Arnault. (courtesy Sophie Dubois)

In 2020, a controlled clinical trial of the Nutri-Foin system was performed, comparing airflow obstruction and airway inflammation in a dozen horses with severe equine asthma (SEA) fed proprietary oiled mixed hay or an alfalfa pellet regimen. The results published in the Equine Veterinary Journal found the Nutri-Foin system an appropriate alternative to pelleted hay for the control of the airway obstruction in horses with SEA.

Jump forward to 2022, when Sophie Dubois and Eric St-Arnault step into the picture. “My business partner and I bought Nutri-Foin a few months ago,” says Sophie, an avid rider and horse lover. “We are very close friends of Danielle and Serge, and when they wanted to retire, they wanted to sell the company to people they trust will make the technology available for everyone.

“I personally discovered Nutri-Foin from my vet because my horse has severe equine asthma. And after seeing the incredible benefits and not worrying any more about my horse, I decided to buy the company with my friend.”

Sophie and Eric are now the exclusive distributors of the Nutri-Foin System through their E Star Ranch in Mirabel. The system costs $7,600 CAD (plus taxes and shipping) and Sophie is proud of its durability and track record. “The machine is heavy-duty and easy to use, so everyone can produce the hay. In eight years, none of them have broken!”

Watch a video of the Nutri-Foin System at work here: