More than 52,000 dairy cows have been slaughtered in a week - the highest rate ever recorded.

And the number sent to the meatworks is tipped to reach more than 1 million this season for the first time as the low milk solids payout starts to bite.

The record-breaking number were culled in the week to May 16 - up from just over 50,000 a week at the start of the month and a weekly rate of about 45,000 for the same time last year. To date, 22 per cent more cows, or 155,000, have been killed than last season.

The slaughters come as Fonterra announced its advance payout for the coming season will be $5.25/kg. Last season the advance payout plummeted from $7 to $4.40 at the end of the season.

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The anticipated final cull of one million does not include other cattle, such as heifers or bulls.

Nick Handley, senior agriculture analyst at the New Zealand stock exchange, said: "We do break new records every year and autumn is a peak time."

Federated Farmers dairy industry group chairman and Manawatu farmer Andrew Hoggard said the decision to send dairy cows to the works was an economic one.

Dairy farmers are in their non-milking period. "It makes sense, given the payout and the price of culled cows. It is logical they would cut back on numbers and reduce costs. When [payout] prices are up it makes sense to buy in supplementary feed but when prices are this low, to have a few less cows makes sense."

He said strong beef prices also made it an attractive prospect. He is able to sell friesian cows for $1000 each at the moment, up from $500-$600 in a normal season.

Bruce Mudgway, livestock manager at Greenlea Premier Meats, said more dairy stock than normal was reared two years ago, when payouts were high, so this year stock levels were unusually high.

Affco's Moerewa plant normally ran double shifts three or four weeks a year, but since October has run two shifts, overtime and Saturdays.