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Training our peripheral vision

Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 15 July 2015

As I drove through Yellowstone National Park, I thought, “If those folks would just put down those fishing poles and drive up the road 300 yards, they’d see a bull elk in velvet as inspiring as anything they’ve ever seen.” But they didn’t. The campers kept tossing in their fishing lines, reeling in air, completely unaware of anything not directly in front of them.

Then I took another side road, and a herd of maybe 200 buffalo – cows with calves and bulls – grazed a hillside and sauntered through the parking lot to the river.

I could have reached out the car window and touched them. (Except I didn’t want to smell like buffalo.) Meanwhile, those traveling the main highway a quarter-mile away (driving like madmen to reach the next tourist spot), missed that stirring sight.

At another juncture, I drove past parking lots crammed with campers and thought, “If they’d roll out of their sleeping bags and watch this sunrise, they would see the gray wolf trotting through the meadow.” But they didn’t.

And I’ll admit I’m not a big wolf fan (livestock depredation and all), so I wouldn’t even take a picture, just to “not show my support.” But still – those focused on sleep or morning coffee missed despising that wolf while admiring its independence.

This occurred as I drove through the park on my way back from the Wyoming Forage Field Day in Basin, Wyoming. (I know, I have a tough job, but truly it was the shortest route to the field day.)

I left Cody, Wyoming, about 6:30 a.m., so the wildlife was very active in the park at that hour. Yet at nearly every bend I couldn’t help but ponder the incredible sights I knew others couldn’t see because they were focused elsewhere.

Anatomically speaking, we all have focus – literally 15 degrees of it. As light hits our eyes, we focus on a 15-degree field, but everything outside of that 15 degrees is peripheral and unfocused.

Athletes who are lauded with “great field vision” don’t see any better than the rest of us but are just more aware of what’s in their peripheral vision.

While the peripheral vision focus cannot be increased – the cones and rods responsible for vision are developed at birth and only decrease with age – the peripheral visual skills (being more aware of what’s in that field of vision) can be trained.

We all live our lives using central vision, focused directly ahead, relying very little on peripheral vision. Without deliberate action to develop peripheral awareness, peripheral visual skills will be poorly trained, and we’ll be unaware of activity in our periphery. This provides an accurate analogy for our industry.

I’ve met some great folks in the hay and forage business through on-farm visits and other interviews in Wyoming and Kentucky the past few months. I would say the most progressive and seemingly profitable producers are those with great field vision as it relates to the hay and forage industry.

They’re “out there” talking to others in the industry – cattle producers, dairymen, hay brokers, agronomists, successful neighbors, salesmen – and are always trying to figure out better business, marketing and production practices.

They have great field vision, great awareness of issues and ideas being challenged and always evaluating new ideas. They attend seminars and read everything they can get their hands on, looking for what might be around the next bend.

There are days, surely, when central vision is most crucial – think of threading a needle or removing a sliver – so if a producer is focused on making sure the timing is right on the baler or the belt isn’t slipping, that’s surely essential in the moment.

But we would all do well to open our vision and do some more training with our periphery, becoming aware of industry developments and movement.

And could someone plan a forage field day near, say, the Grand Canyon? La Brea Tar Pits? Niagara Falls? Mount Rushmore? I’m not picky.  FG

Lynn Jaynes
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