Reports of a rebuild are greatly exaggerated

Livestock | 21st May 2024 | By Matt Dalgleish

Market Morsel

Listening to a podcast late in April, as part of my preparation for attendance at Beef Week in Rockhampton in May, I was a little shocked to hear a local market commentator saying that the US herd was “moving into a rebuild phase”. It rather surprised me, as the last time I had looked closely at the status of the US cattle cycle they were firmly entrenched in liquidation with their female slaughter ratio (FSR) sitting at around 51%. Sitting well above the 47.5% FSR threshold in the USA between rebuild and liquidation. I took a mental note to chase up the data and investigate these claims.

This week we reported on the Australian herd sitting right on the local FSR threshold of 47%, neither in liquidation nor in rebuild. Historically, the US FSR threshold is marginally higher than the Australian FSR threshold, so it was time to assess if the US were still well entrenched in liquidation or if they were moving towards a change in their cattle cycle from liquidation to rebuild.

The seasonal FSR in the US, which is reported upon monthly instead of the quarterly reporting of the FSR in Australia, shows that for the first three months of 2024 the US FSR has averaged 51.6% and has been rising steadily over the quarter to sit at 52.2% as at March 2024. This signals the US herd is still very much in a strong liquidation phase. Indeed, at an annual average of 51.6% so far this year it is the highest FSR on record, currently on par with the annual average FSR recorded in 2023.

Analysis of the annual average US FSR versus the US change to the herd each year shows that the FSR is moving sideways from the 2023 peak at 51.6% and that the USDA anticipate a decline in the herd in 2024 of nearly 2%, marking the fifth consecutive year of herd liquidation. Historically, over the last 100 or so years the full US cattle cycle (from the start of liquidation to the end of a rebuild) takes on average about a decade. Some cycles have been shorter (circa 8 years) and some cycles have been longer (around 14 years), but as a rough guide they last about 10 years with liquidation phases averaging about 4.5 years and rebuilds averaging about 5.5 years. On the law of averages its likely that we will move into rebuild phase in the US within the next year, but at the moment the current US FSR level suggests we are nowhere near that transition, yet.

The scatter plot of the annual average US FSR versus the annual change to the US herd since the mid 1980s to present shows how clearly the 48% threshold determines which phase of the cattle cycle is underway in the US with only 3 of the last 42 years having an FSR level that didn’t align with the appropriate phase of the cattle cycle. In statistical terms, historically, the US annual average FSR level has correctly predicted which phase of the cattle cycle is underway more than 90% of the time. I think I’ll stick with this data backed measure rather than a throw away comment from a local market commentator, as facts matter.


  • USA
  • FSR
  • Slaughter
  • Herd Liquidation
  • Herd Rebuild
  • Cattle
  • Beef