Bringing in supplementary feed is no longer an option for drought-stricken north Canterbury farmers.
Rain at the weekend brought some hope to replenishing food stocks, but it will be a long haul before the herds could return.
Federated Farmers north Canterbury president Lynda Murchison says feeding livestock is unsustainable.
"This drought is so prolonged and so widespread that bringing feed in is not really an option anymore. The amount of feed you have to bring in is just too big."
She fears a generation of young farmers could be lost amid the two-year drought, with some farmers having had no income since it began.
"This is people's livings, this is their job, their livelihood - their whole lives really. Years of not only not getting paid, but not being able to produce anything and actually running at fairly high losses."
With concerns for the mental health and well-being of farmers, Ms Murchison is urging them to contact rural support help lines.