The Finest Fleece
In the long history and human use of animal fiber, Vicuña is recognized as one of the finest fleeces
in the world, fiber so incredibly fine and soft that only Incan Royalty were permitted to wear it. But
wild Vicuña fiber is slow growing, so slow that it typically is only shorn every three years.
Meanwhile, the earliest alpacas were domesticated from the Vicuña by the native South American
societies roughly 6000 years ago. In the early to mid-1500’s, Spanish Conquistadores invaded and
conquered Peru. In an effort to further subdue the Incans, the Conquistadors slaughtered most
large alpaca herds, and replaced these early alpacas with sheep. As a result, much of the
exquisitely fine fleece produced by the indigenous population was lost. The few remaining animals
often cross-bred with the remaining high-plains llama populations before the major herds could be
recovered and controlled breeding was reintroduced.
Introduction to the United States
On their travels and through work as alpaca screeners, Phil and Chris Switzer began noticing
naturally occurring South American camelids in the late 1980’s that were much finer than other
alpacas, and more delicate in their structure. Knowing that the alpacas in the remote Altiplano
region hadn’t been highly linebred, let alone bred in controlled settings, Phil Switzer found that
many of these unique camelids had fleeces that exhibited more Vicuña-like characteristics such as
greater density, sometimes shorter fiber, and evidence of more guard hair. Ironically, these are
traits that would exclude them from breed standards of alpacas imported into the United States.
Physical characteristics of the more primitive alpaca the Switzers observed varied, such as the
absence of a longer fleece length of modern alpacas. However, these animals maintained a delicate
bone structure, exceptionally fine fleeces, larger eyes, and more guard hair than most standard
imported alpacas, particularly in the chest area and bib and generally across the entire body.
North American Paco-Vicunas near Denver, Colorado Photo Credit: Jane Levene
Due to his fascination with the finer micron fleeces, Phil Switzer began to import the more
primitive looking alpacas he found on Chile’s Altiplano plateau. These imported animals – believed
to the result of breeding between alpaca and Vicuna – represented the birth of the North American
Paco-Vicuna. Since their introduction to the United States in 2002, more than 900 animals have
been registered. The North American Paco-Vicuna Association salutes our Paco-Vicuna Pioneers,
without whom the Paco-Vicuna’s success in North America wouldn’t have been possible. Once
imported, these early Paco-Vicunas were bred with a laser focus on maintaining a low micron value
throughout each animal’s life span and establishing a longer and more reliable fiber staple length.
Many of the current North American Paco-Vicuna® in the United States are offspring of the original
camelids found on the Altiplano in west-central South America.
The current American North American Paco-Vicuna® breed has a distinctly different physical
appearance from the standard alpaca. Alpacas have nearly as much fiber on their necks and legs as
they do across the blanket. Conversely, North American Paco-Vicuna® have particularly little fiber
growth on the neck (on average, only about 1” long) and lack the prominent leg and belly fiber as
well as topknots of domestic alpaca. This gives Paco-Vicuna unusually clean faces and well exposed
eyes. As such, their fiber production is virtually 100% blanket or prime. But the extreme density of
their fiber, along with the crinkle rather than organized crimp make their fleeces highly insulating