A pen infection-transmission experiment was conducted to elucidate the role of pathogen strain and environmental contamination in transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 (ECO157) in cattle. Five steers were inoculated with a three-strain mixture of ECO157 and joined with five susceptible steers in each of two experimental replicates. Faecal and environmental samples were monitored for ECO157 presence over 30 days. One ECO157 strain did not spread. Transmission rates for the other two strains were estimated using a generalized linear model developed based on a modified ‘Susceptible-Infectious-Susceptible' mathematical model. Transmission rates estimated for the two strains (0·11 and 0·14) were similar. However, the rates significantly (P = 0·0006) increased 1·5 times for every 1-unit increase in the level of environmental contamination measured as log10 c.f.u. Depending on the level of environmental contamination, the estimated basic reproduction numbers varied from <1 to 8. The findings indicate the importance of on-farm measures to reduce environmental contamination for ECO157 control in cattle that should be validated under field conditions.