Sexton Brothers Dog Food
Years of field experience go into every bag of Sexton Brothers Dog Food, a brand formulated, manufactured and shipped from the family-owned Willard Milling Company in Carter County.
Freeman Sexton, 71, said the feed business was born out of frustration.
“You won’t believe this, but a little deer started all of this,” Sexton said during a tour of the feed mill and his nearby fox pens.
A lifelong fox hunter, Sexton said he used to get extremely frustrated when his hunting dogs would follow the scent of a deer into unfriendly territory near Grayson Lake and eventually be found dead. The problem resulted in Sexton erecting miles of electrified fencing around large tracts of land in 1979 to create fox pens that allowed hunters to run their dogs without fear of losing the animals.
“There’s been a lot of questions about who built the first fox pen in America,” Sexton said, adding “It was me.”
Once the first five-acre pen was complete, Sexton placed an ad in a magazine inviting fox hunters to visit his land in Willard. Before long, he had fox hunters coming from across the United States, as well as Canada and England, lined up and ready to pay $5 per dog to enjoy an evening at the enclosed hunting ground.
Encouraged by that initial success, Sexton built additional, larger fox pens. When he opened his pens for field trials, Sexton said he quickly made enough connections with hunting-dog owners to begin selling a respectable amount of dog food from his garage. It didn’t take him very long to become curious about creating a dog food better suited to the needs of hunting dogs that run flat-out for hours on end in pursuit of an elusive quarry.
“I wasn’t much good in school,” Sexton said, explaining he knew nothing about the protein content of ingredients used to make dog food when he started thinking about making his own feed for hunting dogs.
After researching the topic and testing different formulas on his own fox hounds, Sexton said he found the winning combination and invited his brothers, Floyd and David, to join him in launching a new company. Pointing to a tanker truck unloading liquefied animal fat, Sexton chuckled as he recalled their first effort to buy a few barrels of the rendered material.
“We just wanted to buy a few barrels of it and sent a truck to get it,” he said, explaining the company that makes the product from scrap meats almost refused to sell such a small amount. Willard Milling Company is now capable of producing between four and five tons of dog food per hour, Sexton said, making the animal-fat supplier quite happy they honored the brothers’ first order.
Today, Willard Milling Company employs about 18 people, including truck drivers, Sexton said. The raw materials used to make their dog food is stored in bulk tanks before it is fed into a grinder and custom mixed according to different recipes, providing varying levels of fat and protein to meet specific needs of different animals.
Sexton said he is uncertain about where the bags of feed end up, explaining a network of independent distributors sells the Sexton Brothers brand of feed. The food is also sold, at the lowest retail price anywhere, “out the front door” of the milling company.
Sexton said he credits their success to the hard work of the company’s employees, including his son Dean Greene, as well as local customers “and the good Lord.”