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What is a mine pet platter?

A mine pet platter is a special type of platter or tray that is used to feed and care for small pets that live and work in mines. In the past, when coal mines relied heavily on pit ponies and other working animals, mine pet platters were an important tool for keeping these animals healthy while they lived underground.

What are the origins of the mine pet platter?

Mine pet platters first emerged in the mid-19th century during the peak of coal mining in England and Wales. At this time, horses were still one of the main forms of power used in the mines. Special pit ponies were bred to haul coal carts through the narrow mine shafts.

Ponies would spend their entire working lives underground in the mines. Mine owners soon realized that keeping these ponies healthy required finding a way to feed and water them while they worked. A special shallow, flat feeding tray or platter was devised that could easily be lowered down the mine shafts.

These early mine pet platters were made of simple materials like tin or copper. They needed to be small and lightweight to be easily transported up and down the mines. The platters also had to have very low sides so the ponies could easily eat from them while wearing harness gear.

What animals were kept and fed with mine pet platters?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, pit ponies were the most common mine pets. Ponies were preferred for hauling coal cars because of their agility, calm temperament, and smaller size compared to full-sized horse breeds. Some key pony breeds used included:

  • Shetland ponies
  • Welsh ponies
  • Dartmoor ponies
  • Fell ponies

At their peak, it’s estimated over 70,000 pit ponies were working in the mines of England alone. Ponies worked up to 10 hours a day and typically lived about 30 years. The mine pet platter was an essential tool for feeding these ponies.

In addition to ponies, other small animals were sometimes kept as pets and fed from the platters, including:

  • Mine canaries – used to detect dangerous gases, their loss of song signaled to miners to exit tunnels immediately.
  • Mice & rats – kept to detect bad air when they died.
  • Goats – occasionally taken underground to provide milk.

What was on a typical mine pet platter menu?

A balanced diet was crucial for keeping mine ponies healthy and able to perform their strenuous hauling work. A typical pit pony’s daily mine pet platter would include:

  • Oats – the staple grain of a pit pony’s diet, provided carbohydrates for energy.
  • Hay – essential roughage to promote digestion.
  • Fresh vegetables – carrots, turnips, potatoes provided vitamins.
  • Mineral salts – for electrolyte balance.
  • Water – always made available to wash down the food.

Here’s an example of a typical daily mine pet platter meal plan:

7am 2 pounds oats 1 flake hay
12 noon Carrots & turnips Water
4pm 2 pounds oats Mineral salts

The quantities would be adjusted depending on the pony’s size and workload. Plenty of fresh water was critical since ponies could sweat up to 15 liters per day laboring underground.

What were key design features of mine pet platters?

The mine pet platters needed to be extremely durable, portable, and allow easy feeding access for the pit ponies. Key design features included:

  • Shallow sides – Low edges let ponies feed easily. Sides were just 2-4 inches high.
  • Wide surface area – The platter provided ample space for food and water.
  • Built-in handles – Allowed the platter to be carried safely into the mineshaft.
  • Durable material – Usually metal like copper, iron, or tin that wouldn’t easily corrode or rust.
  • Filling notches– Special notches around the edges where food could be rested while filling the platter.

The most critical requirement was keeping the sides low. Some designs were more like trays, while others had shallow dish-shaped basins to hold water. But all designs had to allow a pit pony wearing blinders, bridle and harness to comfortably eat directly off the platter on the mine floor.

Typical mine pet platter dimensions

Platters came in varying sizes based on the number of animals to be fed. But average dimensions were:

  • Length – 2 to 3 feet
  • Width – 1.5 to 2 feet
  • Height – Just 2 to 4 inches along the edges
  • Weight – Typically 5-10 pounds

Some larger models were designed for feed 2-3 ponies at once. But most were a compact, lightweight size for easy handling in the dark, cramped mines.

How were the platters used to feed and care for mine pets?

The mine pet platters provided a simple way to meet all a pit pony’s daily food and water requirements underground. Typical use involved:

  • Filling the platter with fresh feed at the mine’s stables first thing in the morning.
  • Carrying the filled platter down shafts via ladders to reach the underground tunnels.
  • Setting down the platter every few hours for ponies to eat from as they hauled coal.
  • Replenishing the platter with feed from supply bags as needed.
  • End of day – returning platter topside for cleaning and reuse.

The platters were also helpful for grooming and bathing. Ponies could stand with their feet on the platter while being brushed or washed down. The lip helped contain water mess.

For mine pets like canaries and mice, smaller platters were used to provide food and water. Platter placement was critical to monitor the creatures for signs of danger.

When did the mine pet platter fall out of use?

The mine pet platter became obsolete in the mid-20th century. Several key factors led to its decline:

  • Pit ponies began being phased out in the 1950s and replaced with machinery like conveyor belts and mine carts.
  • Animal welfare laws were passed restricting use of animals underground.
  • New technologies like gas monitoring devices replaced the need for canaries and mice.
  • With fewer mine animals, need for specialized feed methods disappeared.

A small number of mining museums display antique mine pet platters today. But the days of lowering ponies and songbirds into mines with these unique contraptions ended decades ago.


While no longer used, the mine pet platter served an important role in history. These durable yet lightweight feeders allowed vital pit ponies and other creatures to live and work underground alongside miners for over a century. The special platter design ensured healthy hardworking ponies that fueled the extensive coal mines feeding industrialization. Though now obsolete, mine pet platters represent an ingenious and humane solution for a challenging environment.