Although specialization is the global trend in agriculture, integrated farming systems have emerged in Vietnam. An important motive was the desire to improve the livelihoods and the diet of the nuclear families; this was evident in the analysis using the household life cycle of five phases. Off-farm diversification was especially important for a new household. At the onset of expansion, the new mothers replaced off-farm with homebound activities. During expansion the farmers increased virtual farm size by keeping more livestock; during accumulation they invested in land or education, and during consolidation old couples adjusted farm activities to their labor capacity. Livestock, including fish, was essential for livelihood. The distribution of goats instead of cattle by credit or by “passing-on-the-gift” was far more effective for poverty alleviation. Technological innovations on the cultivation of rice and fruits, and the breeding of fish were essential for change. The improved food security and reduced cash income from rice after the 1986 reforms pushed farmers to take risks. The farm area and number of component farm activities providing cash determined the level of cash income from agriculture. Farms with at least four flows of biomass between components earned more, demonstrating that real integration improved profits. A minimum area of land in, or close to, the homestead, and know-how are required for an effective integration of components.