What do you do if you need a cow but don't want the bother of owning one? Simple, lease one.

You won't find a rent-a-cow counter at the airport, but there are companies around who will lease you a Holstein or a heard of Holsteins.

One of those companies is Borg-Warner Corp., the big auto parts maker, which, through a subsidiary, leases dairy cattle to farmers who can't lay out the $3,000 for a purebred milking cow.

"It's a very practical way for a farmer to muliply the use of his dollar," according to Doug Mueller, director of communications for Burg-Warner.

Borg-Warner Leasing, which is based in Dallas, works in conjunction with Quality Holstein Leasing Inc. in buying the cattle and supplying them, complete with a warranty, to the dairy farmers. Right now cows with the Borg-Warner brand are roaming on more than 200,000 dairy farms in Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Louisiana and Georgia.

At the end of the lease period of five years, which the average productive period of a dairy cow, the farmer can either buy the cattle or return it to Borg-Warner Leasing. These cattle are then sold as beef cattle.

For the farmer, livestock leasing is attractive because his initial capital outlay is much less than if he bought the cattle outright, according to Borg-Warner. "He can operate for the five years for a lower capital base," said Mueller. "We verified very closely that we can bring down the cost of farming. It reduces the cost of producing milk because of better utilization of equipment."

Mueller said Borg-Warner has been involved in leasing livestock for about two years and that the company will probably do $1 million worth of business this year Borg-Warner decided to lease cattle after it discovered the "excellent profit potential," according to Mueller.

But there are some who don't share Mueller's enthusiasm.

According to Robert Lewis, chief economist and national secretary for the National Farmers Union and a rancher himself, the livestock leasing business in general does the farmer no good and is merely used as a tax shelter by the leasing company.

"It has no relation to the profession of producing milk or meat," said Lewis. "It serves no useful function whatsoever. It's just a way to milk the government and farm the Internal Revenue Service."

Lewis says that the lessor is eligibile for a number of deductions on the cattle, including a 10 percent investment credit on the purchase price of the animal and a 20 percent first year depreciation deducation. The leasing business is set up in such a way so as to "take advantage of certain provisions of the tax laws and it's more advantageous for people with high incomes than for farmers," Lewis said.