I have already walked across many pastures this spring, especially my own, and you can quickly assess the conditions of each field and start planning out a game plan for where grazing should start and what is going to need more rest. One question I hear quite frequently this time of year is: "Can I start grazing yet?" Most grazers are eager to get the animals back out grazing and reduce feeding hay. Certainly, no one plan works for everyone.
Stockpiled fields grazed early should have more forage residual left behind and should also have the most "green" growth because of more reserves. These fields should be the first ones to start grazing this spring. Fields grazed later into the winter, or very early spring, will be shorter and will need extra rest to rebuild root reserves prior to grazing. This is just the beginning of what I'd call staging the paddocks.
Many pastures this spring though will have little residual left on them because of the droughty weather last fall, I would recommend holding off as long as you can (and the hay supply lasts) to allow a little extra time for the forages to revive themselves or to let new forages and legumes planted take hold. I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, because if you have over seeded or frost-seeded legumes into the pasture, you do need to somewhat keep their competition at bay. Those fields need to be grazed enough to keep existing forages, mainly grass from competing too much with the seedlings for light. All of this can be accomplished by keeping the livestock moving and not staying on any paddock too long. We need to build some root reserves back because of last year's conditions. If we would happen to have another…I hate to say it…droughty year, we are going to need as many root reserves as possible…so don't overgraze. Keep at least 3-4 inches of growth at all times on most cool-season forages.
Pastures that were grazed down real tight early last fall and prior to going dormant will tend to be very short in the spring and slower to start growing because the plants will also have to grow roots at the same time. Very close grazed pastures, somewhat dependant on how they were grazed, are often a slightly darker green because of higher concentrations of nitrogen, especially if they were grazed at high density. These pastures will benefit from a longer rest prior to being grazed the first time. Pastures that were stockpiled and grazed after going dormant are in a little better shape and depending on how fast regrowth comes, can be grazed fairly soon. Stockpiled pastures that had adequate residue left behind, usually a minimum of 3-4 inches, are really good places to start grazing and are actually better balanced as far as crude protein - nitrogen - carbon - fiber is concerned. In other words, you can walk a little closer behind these cows.