The three cattle farms owned by James G. Angelaras in the lush, softly rolling countryside of Adams County stand out from most of the tidy farms around them.

On one, a lone silo stands amidst the burnt remains of a barn and several smaller buildings. Barbed-wire fencing drags close to the ground, its supporting posts bent. On another farm, rotting equipment and a pile of old tires lie-along-side dilapidated buildings.

What caught and held a visitor's eye recently, however, was the dead cow lying on the ground on one of the farms. It lay near the roadway on its back, its legs locked at an angle, its eyes staring open.

It was dead cows like that one that started the complaints coming this winter. The complaints, from neighbors normally reticent on such matters, have sparked a bizarre controversy in this generally quiet rural community where the only outsiders are tourists drawn here by the Gettysburg Batlefield and the Eisehower farm.

To date, the cow controversy has produced investigations by government agencies and animal-protection groups, hard-hitting front-page stories by a normally sedate small-town newspaper and formal charges of cruelty to animals and other legal violations.

It has also provided a seemingly endless stream of gossip for long-time residents of the area and outraged the source of the gossip - Angelaras, a Washington-area businessman who owns the cattle and who believes his neighbors have undertaken a vendetta against him because he is an outsider.

Angelaras lives in Silver Spring and owns the A.B. Engineering Co., a consulting engineering firm, in Bethesda. According to the Adams County tax assessor's office, he also owns 10 farms in that southern Pennsylvania county, brought for a total purchase price of $634,000 between 1967 and 1975.

Neighbours of Angelaras' three farms in Liberty and Freedom townships, just a few miles down the road from where Mamie Eisenhower lives, say that he comes here only sporadically and leaves day-to-day operation of his farms to a manager and several hired hands.

This winter, neighbors allege, Angelaras and his employes failed to provide adequate food and water to his cattle, resulting in the death of an unusual number of them (no one is sure exactly how many). Animal carcasses were often allegedly left outside for days, drawing crows and vultures. Other cows, the neighbors say, broke through fences, wandered onto roads obstructing traffic, and foraged neighboring properties in seach of food and water.

Angelaras, a chunky, dark-haired man whose Mediterranean looks and Greek accent set him apart from many of his neighbors, contends vehemently that they have exaggerated the situation. Indeed, investigations by pennsylvania and Maryland authorities have failed to support all of the neighbors' contentions.

Some of the investigations have resulted in formal charges accusing Angelaras of cruelty to animals and other legal violations. But other investigations have given farms he owns a clean bill of health, showing that his cattle were contented and healthy.

Angelaras himself says he is "upset" about the situation and thinks "it's very disgraceful the way things were done." In his opinion, he said, "The whole thing started because I have a number of places up there. They don't appreciate a carpetbagger...In the past I've been told to my face, 'You don't belong in Gettysburg.'"

Nevertheless, the flap continues, with long-time residents convinced that something is going on and that somehow Angelaras - coming from Washington and apparently well-to-do - has been able to avoid the issue thus far because of big-city "connections".

One neighbor, Jim Bigham, whose property adjoins one of Angelaras' farms, said that he has seen cattle die on that farm before, but "this winter was the forst L've ever seen it." At one time in mid-January, said Bigham, a gaunt-faced man from whom words come slowly, "there was five or six dead cattle out there laying the field.

Bigham, who has been farming for 50 years, said that he could see from his property that Angelaras' cattle "didn't get enough water, and a lot of days they didn't get any feed." As a result he said, they broke out and came over to his farm where they got into his corn crib. "I couldn't tell you how many times this winter."

Neighbors near Angelaras' other farms have similar stories to tell. Barbara Sanders, who with her husband rents a house and land adjoining property Angelaras used for grazing his cattle, said that "it's been just one constant hassle. Our yard is full of holes because of the cattle, and people come by and yell at us about the cows on the road because they think we own them."

She didn'h, she said, as about "seeing those poor cattle taken care of." Even last summer, she said, she had seen dead cows from Angelaras' herd, including three in a nearby creek and four in a woods.

Normally, residents of Adams County don't raise a fuss about a neighbor's behavior especially to government agencies or law-enforcement officials. It's the kind of place where folks know each other's families for generations, and farms are known by the original owner's name - no matter how many times they change hands. It's the kind of peaceful, friendly place, folks like to think, where the rule is live and let live.

But this winter, several long-time residents say, the sight of dead and dying cattle on Angelaras' farms got too much for them. They took their complaints to just about every local authority they could think of.

Nothing seemed to be happening, and talk of "passing the buck" grew stronger - until the local newspaper, the Gettysburg Times, entered the fray with front-page stories and photographs of dead cows.

The Times, a 12,000 circulation daily whose publisher also serves as chairman of the board of the Adams County SPAC, pulled out all the stops for its coverage of the Angelaras cattle story. Although known more for its coverage of community events like 4-H Club meetings than for exposes of local problems, the Times went so far on this story as to hire a helicopter to allow its managing editor to hover over the dead animals in Angelaras' fields, taking photographs.

The resulting publicity apparently stimulated an investigation by the Pennsylavania Department of Agriculture, which sent inspectors to check out Angelaras' beef and dairy operations. They turned up no problems.

Within days after the first Pennsylvania inspection, Angelaras' critics received another setback when agents from the Philadelphia SPCA, called in to assist its Adams County affiliate, checked the beef farm and found that the cattle there were "feeding heavy." The agents saw no dead animals.

That very day, however, Liberty Township Police Chief Alphonsus J. Pecher, acting on a tip, found three dead calves and a cow on Angelaras' dairy farm. Pecher, a crinkly-eyed trucker and farmer who serves part-time as the entire township police force, concluded that "apparently, somebody ain't lookin," as he reported his findings tf Agriculture.

But while many residents were fuming over the apparent inactivity of local and state officials, things were starting to change. First the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was turning its attention from Angelaras' dairy farm to his beef farms. And this inspection, which centered mainly on possible violations of a law requiring an owner to dispose of an animal's body within 48 hours of its death, was producing different results from the diary farm investigation.

According to Dr. David Ingraham, director of the department's bureau of animal industry, inspectors found evidence that the bodies of animals that had died from Angelaras' 400-head herd were not being disposed of within the time required by law. (The inspectors did not attempt to determine the cause of the animals' death.) As a result, the department two weeks ago produced three formal complaints against Angelaras, charging him with violation of the state's Dead Animal Disposal Act.

Just about the same time, the state police in Gettysburg were dropping their hands-off attitude toward the matter. After conducting their own investigation, they last week filed a cruelty to animals charge against Angelaras, accusing him of providing insufficient food and water to his animals.

Angelaras has entered an innocent plea on the dead animal disposal charges, but according to his lawyer he has not yet been notified officially of the curelty charge.

In an interview last month with the Washington Post, Angelaras angrily denied his neighbors' accusations that he and his farmhands had neglected the animals.

"It's (winter) the time of the year when you have problems," he said. "It's rough. They can slip down on the ice, break their pelvis, and then you have to destroy them."

Regarding his neihbors' complaints that the cows had not been fed regularly, he said, "When you have a blizzard and can't get out of the house to feed them, what are you going to do?"

Some Adams County residents agree with Angelaras that he is being harassed. Fred Crum Jr., a corn grower, believes that "people here have been down on him because he's a foreigner and not from the area.

"Everyone's cows look bad this year. He has a lot of cows, and it's not unheard of to have a few die, especially with the hard winter we've had."

But other neighbors deny that they are overstating the case or raising complaints against Angelaras because he is an outsider.

"He could be from Timbuktu for all we care," said George Kramer, whose property adjoins Angelaras' dairy farm. "All we care is that he take care of his farm - feed his cattle right, mend his fences."

John Greiber Jr., whose farm borders one of Angelaras' beef farms, agreed that "it's not unusual to lose a cow during the winter - but to lose it in the quantities he has, that unusual."

Bill Bell, who runs an animal carcass removal service in Woodsboro, Md., said, "This has been a bad winter - everyone's (lost) cows." But he added that while he had picked up carcasses at many places "two or three times" this winter, he had been to Angelaras' farms "about 10 times."

He would not say exactly how many carcass he had picked up there but conceded it had been "more than a dozen."

Dr. Lester Burdette, an animal scientist with the Pennsylvania State University agricultural extention service who was contacted by The Washington Post, said in a telephone interview that "it would not be unusual to have a single animal die out of (400), but it would be unusual to have that many die."

A local veterinarian who had examined Angelaras' cattle previously and who ashat "this is not just a recent problem. His cattle have died even in summer.He probably loses more than other people simply because he doesn't give them the care they need."

And last year the National Park Service refused to renew a lease Angelaras had been holding on the use of 120 acres of pasture land in the Gettysburg National Military Park. According to the park service, its reactions were Angelaras' "failure to maintain the fences, failure to properly fertilize and control the vegetation, and failure to take adequate care of the cattle."

While the state agriculture department and the state police are pressing their charges, much of the recent fuss has now died down. With winter ended, the ponds and creeks around Gettysburg are no longer frozen, and cattle can get water on their own. Following all the publicity that the matter received in the local press, coupled with visits from the SPCA and various government authorities, Angelaras' cattle are now reported to be getting plenty of feed (although the melting snow reportedly revealed new carcasses recently.