U.S. beef cattle stocks are among the most periodic time-series in economics. A theory of cattle cycles is constructed, based upon rational breeding stock inventory decisions in the presence of gestation and maturation delays between production and consumption. The low fertility rates of cows and substantial lags between fertility and consumption decisions cause the demographic structure of the herd to respond cyclically to exogenous shocks in demand for beef and in production costs. Known biotechnology of cattle demographics imply sharp numerical benchmarks for the dynamic system that describes the evolution of cattle stock and beef consumption. These compare very closely to structural econometric time-series estimates over the 1875-1990 period and prove that systematic cattle cycles have a wholly rational explanation.
Published: Journal of Political Economy, June 1994, Vol. 102, No. 3, pp. 468-492.