Castration in weaned calves is stressful and affects profitability by reducing ADG and increasing susceptibility to disease. This study evaluated the effect of meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), on performance and health of calves received as steers compared with bull calves surgically castrated on arrival at the feedlot. British × Continental bulls (n = 145) and steers (n = 113; BW = 193 to 285 kg) were transported for 12 h in 3 truckloads (d 0), weighed, and randomly assigned to receive either lactose placebo (CONT; 1 mg/kg) or meloxicam (MEL; 1 mg/kg) suspended in water and administered per os, 24 h before castration. On d 1, bulls were surgically castrated (CAST) and steers were processed without castration (STR). Combinations of CONT/MEL and CAST/STR were allocated to 24 pens (6 pens per treatment) of 8 to 14 calves each. Pen was the experimental unit. Plasma meloxicam concentrations at the time of castration (d 1) were determined by HPLC-mass spectroscopy. Pen-level ADG, DMI, and G:F were estimated using BW obtained on d 0, 14, and 28 and weigh-back of feed. Individual animals were classified as sick based on a depression score of ≥2 on a 5-point scale and a rectal temperature of ≥39.8°C. On d 0, 1, and 14, calf chute temperament was evaluated using a 4-point scale. Data were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models and survival curve analyses. Castration reduced pen ADG (P < 0.001) and G:F (P < 0.001) from d 1 to 14, yet no effects (P > 0.45) were apparent by d 28. For all treatment groups, DMI increased with days on feed (P < 0.0001) but was less in CAST compared with STR calves (P < 0.016) throughout the study. From d 15 to 28, ADG increased (P = 0.0011) in CAST but not STR calves, and G:F decreased (P = 0.0004) in STR but not CAST calves. In CAST calves only, MEL treatment reduced the pen-level first pull rate (P = 0.04) and reduced bovine respiratory disease morbidity rate (P = 0.03). The frequency of chute escape behavior was greater on arrival and at castration in CAST vs. STR calves (P < 0.01) but not significantly different at d 14 (P = 0.22). Mean MEL concentrations at castration were no different between treated STR and CAST calves (P = 0.70). Meloxicam administration before castration in postweaning calves reduced the incidence of respiratory disease at the feedlot. These findings have implications for developing NSAID protocols for use in calves at castration with respect to addressing animal health and welfare concerns.
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