Ruminants, and to a lesser extent monogastric farm animals, are known to be natural reservoirs of Escherichia coli O157:H7, and contact with contaminated faeces has been linked to human infection. This study used a nontoxigenic, chromosomally marked, lux reporter strain to compare the persistence and activity (bioluminescence) of E. coli O157:H7 over 21 days in the faecal liquor of five farm animals: horse, sheep, cow, pig and piglet. Samples were inoculated with the lux E. coli O157:H7 (7.82 log CFU mL(-1)) and stored at 20 +/- 1 degrees C. The organism was recovered from all samples throughout the experimental period, although lower numbers were recovered from horse faecal liquor relative to all other types (P<0.001). The organisms' activity declined in all samples over time and no luminescence could be detected in any sample 21 days postinoculation. However, activity did increase greatly within pig and piglet faeces during initial stages of monitoring and overall luminescence was greater in piglet samples compared with all other samples (P<0.001). This is the first study to demonstrate how both the persistence and metabolic activity of E. coli O157:H7 notably varies within a range of ruminant and nonruminant animal faeces. Further research is needed to elucidate the factors that govern differential persistence and metabolic activity of E. coli O157:H7 within such matrices.