The National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal was originally started as Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in 1923 at Bangalore. It was expanded and renamed as Imperial Dairy Institute in 1936 and was known as National Dairy Research Institute after independence in 1947. Subsequently, in 1955, NDRI headquarters was shifted to Karnal. Facilities at Bangalore were retained to function as a Regional Station to serve the Southern States.
In 1964, Eastern Regional Station of the Institute was established at Kalyani, West Bengal. Both these Regional Stations continue to provide region specific R&D support for dairy development in these areas. In 1970, NDRI was brought under the wings of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to provide greater operational autonomy to the Institute in research management functions.
In 1989, status of Deemed University was conferred to the Institute for further strengthening the academic programmes for human resource development.
In 1990, with the birth of "Pratham", the first IVF buffalo calf of the world, NDRI reached a significant milestone.