Cowboys will be herding longhorns through the streets of downtown Denver today, and that means the 105th running of the National Western Stock Show is underway, today through Jan. 24th.

western-stock-show.jpgNot appearing at the Stock Show this year, however, is the “Feed the Animals” attraction.   It was a free exhibit where children could feed $3 “ice cream cones of feed” to farm animals.

Last year 30 children from Colorado’s Front Range who attended the 2009 Stock Show left with E. coli O157:H7 infections.  The investigation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment traced the outbreak to the “Feed the Animals” exhibit.

Eliminating that problem area does not mean the 2010 Stock Show will be without areas for children to come into contact with animals.  A petting farm and livestock exhibits will be available for visiting children.

The petting farm, sponsored by the Denver Post, is according to the Stock Show ” the perfect place for children and parents to actively interact with animals, but we must also stress the importance of washing hands after petting the animals. “

Sheep shearing and wool spinning in a daily changing livestock exhibit will also feature Llamas, Alpacas, Yaks, Pigs, Goats, Poultry and Rabbits.

Warnings about E. coli are now placed on the Stock Show’s website and there will more signage and facilities for hand washing.

An estimated 20,000 school children will visit the 2010 Stock Show, which continues to have its well-known programs for school tours and school buses in place.  Thousands of other children attend with parents.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was not able to pinpoint the 2009 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak to an exact animal.  “We hypothesize that an animal (or animals) in the “Feed the Animals” area was likely shedding E. coli O157:H7 in its feces and contaminated the pen enclosure, pen bedding materials, floor, and/or other environmental surfaces,” the state’s final report on the outbreak said.

Investigators suspected that from there, the contamination was spread over a wide area by show bottoms and stroller wheels.  Health officials blamed the Stock Show for having only hand sanitizers in the area, not hand washing facilities with hot water, soap, and paper towers.  Nor did last year’s signs warn people that animals can spread diseases.

Two of the largest western shows in Canada last year also were responsible for outbreaks as urban children were exposed to farm animals.