Matched sampling of Escherichia coli from broiler house litter and bird lesions of either cellulitis or colibacillosis was conducted to investigate the relationship of pathogenic E. coli to those found in the environment. Isolates were collected from six broiler flocks representing six geographically disparate ranches. Isolates were compared by flock for similarity in serotype and genotyped by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. Serotyping revealed a considerable dissociation between the two groups of isolates. The prevalence of pathogenic E. coli that matched the environmental isolates from the same house was 0 to 3%. Statistical analysis of the serotype data showed a strong dependence of serotype on isolate source, indicating a high probability that a particular serotype would be found among lesions or litter but not in both groups. Genotyping of isolates on two farms supported the results of serotyping and provided differentiation of isolates that could not by typed by serology. These results suggested that the prevalence of pathogenic E. coli in the broiler house was independent of the prevalence of other commensal or environmental E. coli. Understanding the composition of E. coli populations in commercial poultry production may have bearing on the epidemiology and control of E. coli related diseases.