Veterinarians and animal welfare investigators are at a West Coast farm amid reports of hundreds of neglected dairy cows.
The Greymouth Star understands the farmers, at Rotomanu, are relatively new to dairying and became financially strapped.
Hundreds of stock are believed to be involved; some have died or been put down and others sent to the meatworks.
The Ministry for Primary Industries Canterbury-Westland compliance manager Peter Hyde said an investigation had been initiated and its animal welfare investigators and veterinarians were assessing the herd.
It would confirm the location only as being in the 'Lake Brunner area'.
"We are focusing on the immediate issues, with the welfare of the herd being our number one priority. We will release more details about the investigation when it is appropriate."
A year ago about 30 starving cattle were destroyed at Lake Brunner Station; that case is currently before the courts.
Charges have also been laid in the Greymouth District Court over animal welfare issues at a Kowhitirangi farm, although the defendant has not appeared yet.
Federated Farmers West Coast president Katie Milne, who farms at Rotomanu and is aware of the latest case, said that at the end of winter farmers who had not budgeted properly for winter feed ran out about this time of year.
She did not want to comment widely because the case could go to court.
"The message is, if people are sailing close to the wind they need to be brutally honest with themselves, their family and their bank. They need to put their hand up and ask for help early on. Help is available.
"It didn't have to get to where it was."
Westland Milk Products chief executive Rod Quin said looking after distressed cows had been the priority for the company, which supported the current investigation.
A more detailed statement would be released after a meeting this afternoon.
In June, a cold snap killed more than 200 cows at Kowhitirangi, though investigators found no one was at fault.
- The Greymouth StarBy Laura Mills of The Greymouth Star