Farmers in Australia have been forced to send prized dairy cows to the saleyards for slaughter so they can pay their bills, according to Four Corners, a current affairs TV programme for ABC Australia.

One saleyard in the state of Victoria has been selling around 700 dairy cows a week to abattoirs since the end of May, the programme reports.

Speaking to the current affairs program, livestock agent Phil McVilly, who deals with abattoirs in the Camperdown region of southwestern Victoria, said there is no sign of the sell-off slowing down.

The increased culling of dairy cows in Australia began at the end of April when Australia’s biggest milk processor, Murray Goulburn, cut the price dairy farmers had been expecting for their milk, according to Four Corners.

Farmers had been relying on the $6/kg (€4.09/kg) they had been getting for their milk solids, but suddenly they were told they would be getting well under $5/kg (€3.41/kg), Four Corners found.

Meanwhile, farmers themselves would have to pay back the difference, a total of around $200m (€136.3m) between about 2,500 farmers.

This price drop now meant that many dairy farmers were being paid less for their milk than it cost them to produce it, according to Four Corners.

Dairy farmers of all sizes have been affected, and the programme has found that animals have been arriving in herds to the saleyards at Camperdown, while some farmers bring two at a time.

Not long after Murray Goulburn announced its price cut to farmers, New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra cut its prices even further says the current affair program, spreading the pain across the whole industry.

It has been reported that Murray Goulburn’s price could drop as low as $4.30/kg (€2.93/kg) next year.

The Johnston family, from southern New South Wales, were suppliers to Murray Goulburn but were forced to stop dairying due to the falling milk prices.

The family told Four Corners that they have worked out that they will end up losing about $70,000/year (€47,700/year) if they keep dairying.